© Telegram file photo
An association representing private school bus operators in Newfoundland and Labrador expects its members will serve schools as they are bound to by contract when classes resume Wednesday.
This contradicts what the Department of Education told the public Monday in a news release. It said some contractors would not honour their commitments, forcing the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District and parents to make alternate arrangements.
Robert Lundrigan, a consultant working for the Newfoundland and Labrador School Bus Operators Association (NLSBOA), told The Telegram Monday that from the association’s vantage point, busing will be business as usual on Wednesday.
“I’m not suggesting that someone, somewhere at some point didn’t say to some official or someone else, but ... we have no intentions as an association, to go down that road,” he said.
Asked why such a suggestion would come to light, Lundrigan said work-related frustrations exist for many operators. The issue of operators not showing up to transport students to start the new school year was discussed at an NLSBOA meeting held last night.
“I’m told by district office personnel, as well as the department, that someone did make a comment to that effect,” he said. “I can’t comment on that, because I didn’t hear that myself. I can only tell you that at our meeting when the issue of the minister’s press release was raised ... that there was unanimous agreement that that’s not where the association or private operators in general are going. There was unanimous support to ensure that all children will (be) safely transported to school.”
Lundrigan said the association plans to continue meeting with the province.
“We’ve made some good progress on some issues, and we need to continue the dialogue.”
Some independent school bus contractors will not be honouring their contracts to transport children to and from school when classes begin this week, according to the provincial government.
Clyde Jackman, minister of Education, addressed the issue in a news release on Monday.
“Given the information we received this weekend, we felt it was important to give parents and caregivers advance notice that this disruption in service is a possibility," Minister Jackman said. "We certainly hope it can be averted.
Jackman added that government is prepared to talk to representatives of the Newfoundland and Labrador School Bus Operators Association (NLSBOA) and private operators on their concerns but contracts previously awarded through tendering process, however should be respected.
According to the release, school boards in Newfoundland and Labrador have traditionally utilized a mix of board-operated and privately-contracted student transportation services to bus nearly 48,000 students to and from school each year.
Minister Jackman said the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District was prepared to handle routes not covered by contractors as of Friday, August 30 with board-owned buses, but learned this weekend that other contractors are planning to withdraw services. Given the uncertainty of this withdrawal, all routes may not be able to be serviced and government advised parents may have to arrange alternate means of transportation for their children.
"The Provincial Government has made every effort to respond to the concerns of private school bus operators over the years - and we have met on several occasions in recent months in an effort to address their concerns," said Jackman. "We do, however, treat the potential breach of contracts as a very serious matter and will work with the school districts to use every means available to us to minimize the impact on students and families."
The release added that school districts will advise, if possible, which routes will be impacted, should some operators choose to withdraw services.