The principal of Shaughnessy Park School, a K-8 school in Winnipeg’s North End, says a Walking School Bus program aimed at increasing attendance rates requires permanent funding to keep up its success.

Parent volunteers and educational assistants walk three routes each day to make sure kids who need help getting to school get to their classes safely and back home again at the end of the day.

The program started in April 2016 and now serves 30 families and more than 65 children. 

Principal Pat Graham said between September 2018 and January 2019 the program helped five students with attendance rates of under 85 per cent increase their attendance by between seven and 16 per cent. 

The problem is the school has been relying on one-time funding flowing from the province through various channels since the program started. Graham said the school keeps applying for grants but needs a consistent funding source to keep the program running.

The funding currently in place will only keep the program running until the end of May, Graham said.

“We really believe that this is something that is invaluable in this community so we would like to see it as an ongoing budget item that year after year was funded,” said Graham. “Without some stable funding and without some community partnerships, it won’t be sustainable.

“If we rely solely on volunteers there are other pulls that happen that will not be — it will not be consistent and we need to know the same person is on the route, parents need to know the same person is on the route, the kids need to recognize who is there and they need to feel safe.”

It costs about $15,000 a year for the Walking School Bus to run three routes.

Volunteers receive a small honorarium, $17 for walking both morning and afternoon routes and $8.50 for doing one route per day. 

The school went to the board asking for permanent funding earlier this year but the request was denied. 

Winnipeg School Division trustee Mark Wasyliw said the board’s hands were tied due to the province’s request divisions cap the special requirement in their budgets at two per cent. 

“We can’t fill in that money with tax revenue anymore and so we can’t meet the needs of our community even though we have programs like the Walking School Bus that work and we see that they work and they don’t actually cost a lot of money and they have a huge impact on a student’s life,” said Wasyliw. “Right now we’re just scrambling to see what we can do to help that school.”

Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen said it’s up the division and board to prioritize spending.

“I would obviously encourage every division to look within their budget to look at what the key priorities are,” said Goertzen. “It’s not just about adding three per cent, five per cent, six per cent every year — it’s about looking at that budget every year and going the stuff that we’ve doing for the last little while is it still the right stuff to be doing.”

Graham said provincial grants kept the program running from September to February. 

A third grant is keeping the program going until the end of May this year.

Graham said the school plans to return to the school board in September to ask for ongoing funding.