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Changes coming to Prairie Valley bus service

Changes coming to Prairie Valley bus service
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Some students who live within the boundaries of Prairie Valley School Division attend schools in Regina’s Catholic or Public school divisions. This year, 140 students were bused into the city on one of nine routes.

Prairie Valley decided two years ago it would end this practice by June 2019. That might happen sooner, as Prairie Valley seeks to make its transportation more efficient and promote enrolment at its own schools.

Students have been bused into Regina since before the 2006 school board amalgamations, said Prairie Valley board chair Janet Kotylak, “for reasons of geographic proximity of a legacy school division, their ability to accommodate, their ability to provide French immersion programming, and in some cases high school programming.”

The Regina school divisions receive grant funding for those students, and Prairie Valley covers the transportation for students in the rural area surrounding Regina, including the communities of Grand Coulee and Pense.

But with that number dwindling — an estimated 109 next year, 82 in 2018-19 and 13 in the final year — the board is talking about eliminating bus routes this fall. Families would be paid a transportation stipend to drive their child to school.

The board decided at its Feb. 11, 2015, meeting to end transportation of Prairie Valley students to Regina schools for the 2019-20 school year — except for students who couldn’t take French immersion in a Prairie Valley school.

French immersion is being introduced up to Grade 8 in White City this fall and up to Grade 4 in Lumsden, with full programming available by 2022-23.

Students who can’t be accommodated within Prairie Valley will continue to go to Regina.

“There’s a grandfathering piece to this, too,” said Kotylak, as children follow their siblings to Regina schools. “No one will go without French immersion programming.”

This decision also relates to Regina schools facing enrolment pressures.

This fall, three Regina schools will no longer be open to Prairie Valley students: St. Mary’s, due to enrolment increases; Centennial, due to becoming wholly French immersion; and St. Andrew’s, which is closing in June.

“As they face their enrolment pressures, then they change which students can go to which schools, so it changes continually, which is part of the challenge,” said Kotylak, who couldn’t say how many children would be impacted by those changes.

“That affects our ability to be efficient,” added Kotylak. “We’re pretty confident we’re able to reduce the number of bus routes, we think about four of them, and with that we’ll save money and improve efficiencies. So given our financial reality, that’s a piece of this as well.”

The Prairie Valley board continues to work through its budget, with a $5-million funding shortfall resulting from the provincial budget.

As with most school divisions, the bulk of Prairie Valley’s spending is on personnel.

“Education is a people business,” said Kotylak.

Kotylak said the board is exploring savings in areas that have less impact on students, including technologies, central purchasing, infrastructure renewal and eliminating vacant staff positions.

Prairie Valley covers an area of about 27,800 square kilometres; it is 240 kilometres at its widest. Regina, near its western border, has its own school divisions.

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