Northern Lights Public School division fears that the province’s changes in bus driver safety standards could leave them shorthanded and paying more for transportation for the start of the 2019-20 school year.
After the Humboldt bus crash, the province added new safety practices for Class 1 and Class 2 drivers, which means that some school bus drivers must pass a MELT (Mandatory Entry-Level Training) course and S-endorsement before the newly extended deadline of July 31.
The course takes over 50 hours to complete over a six-week interval and only six drivers can be trained at a time.
During their board meeting last week, NLPS Director of Transportation, Matt Richter, said it may be difficult to train all of the new drivers needed to ensure there are enough drivers for all of the division’s bus routes when school starts in September.
The NLPS Board passed a motion to send a letter to the Minister of Transportation expressing its concerns at their meeting March 6.
“This is great because we want our kids to be safe, we’re not arguing with the new requirements. It’s more the way its rolled out, the timeline, and the lack of financial support to ensure we can get it done,” said Nicole Garner, communications for NLPS.
Since NLPS already runs a transportation deficit, they worry that they’ll have to take more money away from the classroom to fund the training for bus drivers.
If they don’t pick up the cheque, they fear that drivers will choose not to comply and quit driving a school bus, since Garner said, that bus contractors are telling them the costs of running a school bus is getting too expensive for what they’re getting paid anyway.
The training costs have been capped at $5000 a driver, but it isn’t clear whose cost it will be.
“It’s going to be a challenge in an area where we’re already running a deficit in transportation. There’s no money there to pay for it. That’s going to have to come out from what we spend for classes,” said Garner.
NLPS is currently getting two drivers trained, who will then train the remaining drivers they contract who need the MELT and S-endorsement.
Richter also said there has been a 40 per cent turnover in drivers in the last three years.
NLPS is one of several school boards advocating for financial help and a longer training deadline to make sure they aren’t stuck for next school year.
MELT and S-Endorsement specifics from province
Effective March 1, 2019, all new Class 1 or Class 2 school bus drivers must complete Mandatory Entry-Level Training and have an S endorsement on their driver’s licence.
If you got your Class 2 licence on or before October 10, 2018, and you have an S-Endorsement on your licence, no changes apply to you.
If you got your Class 2 licence between October 11, 2018, and February 28, 2019, you must take the enhanced knowledge and road test by March 1, 2020.
If you are a school bus driver and do not yet have an S-Endorsement on your licence, you have until July 31, 2019, to get the necessary training and update your licence. A permit will be required to give current drivers who do not yet have their S-Endorsement an extension until July 31, 2019, to take this training.
Effective March 1, 2019, all drivers who have never held a Class 2 licence before and want to get one must take Class 2 MELT training.
Until July 31, 2019, new school bus drivers can apply to Alberta Transportation to get their Class 2 licence under the pre-MELT process. You must also take the enhanced MELT knowledge and road test by March 1, 2020.
All school bus drivers must have completed the School Bus Driver Improvement Program (S-Endorsement) by July 31, 2019.
The province originally scheduled all S-Endorsement training to be complete by March 1.
Lakeland Catholic School Division did not respond in time of publication.