Transporting two special needs kids could cost Catholic board $40,000

Everything from purchasing and equipping a special wheelchair accessible bus to offering parents mileage to transport their children was discussed at last night’s regular meeting of the Northwest District Catholic School Board.
But in the end, no solutions were found to the special needs transportation issue in Dryden.
“This is a board-wide issue, not just a Dryden issue,” Superintendent of Business Chris Howarth told the board last night.
Howarth was making a presentation about the special needs transportation situation the board faced with two students who live outside of Dryden.
He said it could cost as much as $40,000 a year to transport them to school.
These children, who currently are sent to school in a taxi, soon will require wheelchair accessible bus to get to school but handi-transit service, which takes other wheelchair students to school, won’t pick up kids outside city limits.
Howarth said the board administration has gone over a number of scenarios as possible solutions to the problem. They approached the Ministry of Education for additional funds, which the province said was not in its mandate, asked private taxi companies if they would offer the service, and suggested giving parents mileage incentive if they would transport the kids themselves.
“The parents made it clear that they don’t want to be reimbursed for that. They want their child transported on the school bus like everyone else,” he said.
Board chair Wade Petranik said it was important the board, and not parents, provide transportation for these students, especially since their siblings went to school on a bus every day.
“We must provide equal transportation to all children in the system,” he stressed.
Howarth asked what would be involved if the board were to equip a bus already used to transport children to school with a wheelchair lift.
But bus operators were skeptical of the plan, citing numerous reasons from a rough ride in the back of the bus to difficult scheduling since the children’s homes are not located near each other.
Cost of running a specially-equipped bus for wheelchair students also was estimated at $40,000 a year, or $20,000 per child.
“The other nagging issue is that we have two students now. What happens when we get four or five?” he wondered.
The best alternative, Howarth suggested, would be to get handi-transit in Dryden to extend its boundaries so they could service these children.
“We approached Dryden handi-transit and their answer has been an emphatic no, they will not transport users outside city limits,” he said.
Part of the reason could be that city taxpayers pick up the tab for the significant deficit incurred each year by the program.
While they already have been rejected several times, Howarth said a meeting between city administrators, handi-transit, and the school board has been set up and he hopes it will result in a partnership.
If that meeting does not result in a partnership, the board is considering placing an ad asking if a private individual who already has a wheelchair accessible vehicle would be interested in providing the service.
Meanwhile, Diana Pacheco, chair of the special education advisory committee, also made a presentation to the board last night.
In it, she asked for more access to financial information when it comes to special education funding to better help the board come up with a solution to this and other problems.
“It’s pretty hard to come up with a solution when you don’t know what the board is willing to spend on it,” she said. “If we had an unlimited amount of money, then we would buy a bus and equip it and use it to transport the kids.”
She also cited portions of the Education Act that stated SEAC committees were entitled to have the opportunity for input into the budget process.
The board approved a motion to create a protocol that would allow the committee to do just that.
Also last night, the board:
•approved an action plan for Education Quality and Accountability Office for 2001-2002 based on EQAO results announced in October;
•approved the 2002-2003 school year calendar, which states that classes start Sept. 3, 2002 and end June 25, 2003;
•approved a motion to have the draft of Catholic School Councils, which would be formed in each school to help foster the faith community, be distributed to schools for input;
•recieved the personnel report, which saw the appointments of Sheri-Lynn Burke, Linda Budreau, Janice Lee, and Darlene Fejos Rousseau as teacher-in-charge at various schools (they also approved the half-time federation leave of Marilyn Tinkess);
•approved a motion to meet with the Rainy River District School Board requesting about the transportation policy.