Bus drivers are being offered more money by St. Paul Education in order to address some of the cost increases to the independent contractors who operate the school division’s bus routes.
According to Board Chair Heather Starosielski, the transportation committee met with bus drivers on Mar. 8 to discuss their concerns, including the steep increase to the cost of insurance for buses, COVID cleaning protocols, and the impact of MELT training requirements.
More than 1,800 students are bused to division schools each year. According to the SPERD website, 40 per cent of the buses are owned by the division and 60 per cent are operated by contractors. Combined, the buses log approximately 1.5 million kilometers per year across 53 bus routes.
As of July 31, 2020 the province required all bus drivers to have the S endorsement on their licenses, which required an additional training course for most drivers.
“We discussed the impacts that have occurred there financially as well as the inability to recruit more drivers,” said Starosielski.
According to Starosielski, the board offered drivers a two per cent increase on the in-town daily rate and the rural monthly basic rate as well as a $0.02 per kilometre increase to the rural grid, all retroactive to Sept. 2020. That increase to the grids will leave the St. Paul Education drivers roughly in the middle of what drivers in neighbouring and similar sized divisons are paid.
At the meeting, the board also offered a lump sum payment to cover 80 per cent of the increase to insurance premiums, which was rejected by the drivers.
Last year, regular buses were charged roughly $1,400 each and spare buses roughly $860 for insurance. That cost tripled this year to roughly $4,300 per bus regardless of whether it is a regular bus or a spare.
“Obviously that is just not sustainable, and the contractors and ourselves have been doing lobbying efforts with our MLAs, with the Minister of Education, with their Bus Association in attempts to try and figure out a route that is going to make it affordable for people to do business because this rate is simply not possible,” said Starosielski.
At the SPERD board meeting Mar. 10, the board approved a motion to return to the drivers with a rebuttal proposal offering 85 per cent of the difference to insurance premiums. If accepted, the proposal would cost the division approximately $2,400 per regular bus and $2,900 per spare bus.
Vice-Chair Justin Anderson said they recognize it also challenging for the board to source the dollars, “but we feel that’s a fair offer.”
Starosielski said she hoped the province would step in and assist with the situation, but “right now, we need to ensure that our students are still on a bus.”
If a more permanent solution is not found, there could be increases to the cost of bus fees charged to families. According to the SPERD website the fee for in-town busing in the 2020-2021 school year was $250 per student. Rural students have a variety of options ranging from $100 for a part-time kindergarten student to a maximum of $500 for year-round yard service with morning pick up and afternoon drop off.
The board hopes to have the busing contracts resolved by early April.