Rankin Inlet struggles to keep school bus service running
DEA scrambles to find new provider for 2014-2015
School buses stopped running in Rankin Inlet June 12, when classes ended for the summer.
But they won’t hit the road again in the fall — unless the local district education authority finds a new provider, or improves its deal with the current one.
The DEA’s contract with the community’s not-for-profit Pulaarvik Kablu Friendship Centre, which ran the service for the past 10 years, closed this month.
“Our audit will show a loss close to $100,000 this year, and that’s all because of the school bus service,” said George Dunkerley, executive director of Pulaarvik.
The centre’s bus service contract hasn’t changed since it started providing the service 10 years ago, Dunkerley said.
In fact, Pulaarvik’s loss almost equals the yearly value of the contract, which amounts to $105,000.
“It’s impossible for us, as a non-profit, to continue in that fashion,” he said.
The Friendship Centre offers a broad range of counselling, educational, and cultural programs for the community. Losses from the school bus contract have eaten into the centre’s administrative budget.
“The centre has administration fees on most of our contracts,” and these “have gone into running the school bus, rather than fixing our administrative building, or hiring extra staff for the centre itself,” he said.
“My position as a finance officer is usually the one that suffers, because we lose a staff member, and then we’ve got to take on the extra duties of that person,” he said.
Meanwhile, Rankin Inlet’s District Education Authority, which administers the hamlet’s three schools, is scrambling to find a solution for the next school year.
“We’re working with the (territorial) department of education to figure out the next steps,” DEA chairman, Stan Anderson, told Nunatsiaq News on June 12 — the day classes ended. “It’s a bit of a scramble at this point.”
“We feel it’s a critical service,” Anderson said. “Just with the [walking] distances involved, the brutally cold weather at certain points in the winter — and very small children.”
“Job one for us is the safety of the kids,” he said.
The friendship centre transported more than 300 children and youth every day in the 2013-2014 school year to all three schools in two school buses, Dunkerley said.
Even though the hamlet’s population is less than 3,000, it is “spread out far enough that, for some people, it would be a 20-minute walk for them to get to school,” he said.
“We know, from dealing with the parents, that there’s a lot of kids we take on the buses that wouldn’t go, if they had to walk.”
Anderson agreed. “Not everyone can afford to have vehicles to drive their kids,” said the DEA chairman.
“Not everyone can afford to make sure that their kids are kitted-out as best as possible in terms of clothing. So we think it’s critical to maintain the service.”
Even though the DEA concludes the bus service contract with the provider, financing is ultimately up to the department of education, Anderson said.
Pulaarvik Kablu “did advise us that they weren’t able to continue providing the service after this year, for cost reasons,” he said.
“At this point, we’re working with the department of education, trying to figure out the next steps.”
One option, he added, is to update the amounts needed to keep the bus service running, and see if the friendship centre might reconsider.
Dunkerley told Nunatsiaq News at the end of the day, June 13, that the DEA had asked the centre to give details “on what it would cost to run the service for one more year.”
“We’ll see what happens,” he said.
Pulaarvik Kablu’s bus service was hit hard by extreme incidents of vandalism just before the start of the last school year, but Dunkerley said this is just part of the reason it could not continue to provide the service.
“The other part of it is, as a non-profit, we don’t have the infrastructure available for it — like a garage to park the buses in,” he said. “It makes it hard to maintain the service, when you’re at -60 (Celsius, with wind chill) in the mornings.”
“Vandalism is always there, but it’s usually pretty small,” he said. Incidents flare up “over a week or two” every year, which adds repair bills to a service that has already dug too deep into the Friendship Centre’s budget.
Dunkerley said vandalism to the buses has cost the centre more than $80,000 in repair bills over past 10 years.