LETTER: Parents answer: why the Boundary Education Alliance
People have been asking “Why the Boundary Education Alliance?” They are wondering what the need is for this group to form and exist. To help answer this question we want to invite you to look through the window of what we observed in one specific example.
You may or may not know that in October, 2009 a road safety issue was reported by the School District #51 (SD #51) maintenance supervisor regarding the Highway #3 to Alden Road portion of the school bus run. The operations committee met on Oct. 21 and decided the issue should be brought to the Board. They waited three weeks to deal with this “safety issue.”
At that meeting a board member requested that a process of communication and consultation for dealing with this situation be established. The board member was told there would be a discussion about a process. Yet when the November board meeting convened, the only thing that was presented was a motion to discontinue the bus route on the Mt. Baldy road. Process was completely ignored.
The parents who were affected by this decision were advised on a Thursday that effective the following Monday they would have to drive their children to the highway in order to be picked up by the bus. There was no immediate safety concern (like the road gave way, or an accident, etc.) – nothing to indicate there was even a problem; just notification that effective Monday your child’s bus service was gone. Tell me, how would you feel, if out of the blue, you suddenly had a weekend to rearrange your life?
The parents of the area (along with others from the community) rallied to seek to find out what brought about this decision. It was not an easy task. Initially the school board indicated the issue was with “the chute” - a downhill portion of the Mr. Baldy road that has a curved right angle turn at the bottom. When it was asked, “Does this mean there will be no more school field trips to Mt. Baldy Ski hill?” the board suddenly changed the area of concern from “the chute” to the portion of road the bus travelled called Alden road (it is a side road the bus travelled off the Mt. Baldy road).
It was then announced that the SD #51 was hiring (to the tune of $1100) a road assessment consultant to come and assess the road. When the report was handed to the local residents, they couldn’t believe their eyes. The report, including five pictures, was based solely on a portion of Alden road that was beyond the bus run.
There was also a meeting with Emcon and the Ministry of Highways. Parents were not allowed to come to this meeting (again no openness.) The minutes from the meeting demonstrated that “the safety issue” was in reality a maintenance and communication issue and that the Mt. Baldy bus section was, as a road, was not an issue.
The Board did agree to meet with the affected parents – but no one else was allowed to be present. Again, lack of transparency.
At the Jan. 11 board meeting, presentations were made by the parents in an effort to be heard and to seek to understand just what the safety issues were. No specific safety issue was given. The board voted down a motion to rescind their earlier motion, but given that the consultant’s report was called into question by the parents, they agreed to travel the road with the consultant and a parent. How much more did they pay the consultant for this extra work?
The addendum to the consultant’s report was no help either. The consultant, who only acknowledged that two of his pictures were incorrect (in reality, all five were), said he took so many pictures that he got confused as to the location of each one. Isn’t a consultant a professional? And why did he take pictures beyond the bus run in the first place? The report he used as the basis for his conclusions was a report from the United States that was meant to help bus drivers assess and deal with road safety concerns. It had nothing to do with determining whether a bus route should be cancelled.
On February 16, the Board held a special meeting to deal with this issue. At this meeting several more presentations were made by the parents. One of which was a five page paper written. If you would like to read it, go to http://boundaryeducationalalliance.blogspot.com. In the end the board defeated a new motion that would have seen the bus run reinstated with conditions. It was very disappointing.
Here is what stood out for us:
- The board was asked at the beginning when a concern arose to consult with the parents, Emcon, and the Ministry of Highways regarding this issue. In other words to go through a consultative process: something they say they do – that they value the input of all their client groups. They chose not to.
- The board’s initial concern was with “the chute”. But suddenly switched the problem area to Alden Road when it became apparent that making “the chute” an issue would also jeopardize the Baldy field trips. The problem is, there is no problem with the Alden Road. The addendum to the report states that periodic field trips down the Mt. Baldy bus run are okay. If the road is not safe for school bus travel, it is not safe period.
- In a time of fiscal restraint the board had no problem spending money on a consultant, yet was unwilling to consult with the real experts of Baldy Road – the parents. The board has never acknowledged or apologized for this or the inaccurate reports. In fact, they are still insisting the remaining three pictures were accurate.
- We could not believe it when we discovered at the Feb. 16 meeting that at no time has the board met to discuss any of the reports – be it from the parents or from the consultant. Is not the basis of democracy open discussion and debate? To us this is a travesty of justice, there no sincere engagement of the issues was done.
- When push came to shove, two trustees both indicated their reason for voting “no” to reinstating the bus was the terrain and the washboard conditions of the hill entering “the chute”. Never had those reasons come up before in the public meetings. Washboards are a maintenance and driver awareness issue. It is not a road safety issue; not to mention, we thought the safety issue was with the Alden road portion (that is, after all, where the consultant’s report is supposedly based on)?
Even though a bus is fifty (yes, fifty) times safer than a car, the board would rather have seven families drive their children down this “unsafe” road in their cars. What about the green issue? Seven cars on the road versus one bus. So much for working towards reducing our carbon imprint.
Our conclusion is that this board has been able to operate for many years without having to be held accountable for its decisions. This needs to change. The decisions our school district is facing are huge. Are we willing to solely entrust this board with them? We would hope not. For the sake of our children and our community, we would hope not.