School boards are wondering how they are going to pay for new training for school bus drivers when jurisdictions are already running transportation deficits that average $500,000 each.
The new Mandatory Entry Level Training for commercial drivers also does not recognize that school bus drivers already go above and beyond expectations when it comes to safety, they say.
As of Friday, all new commercial drivers are required to take mandatory entry-level training to obtain their Class 1 and Class 2 driver’s licence.
The Alberta School Boards Association said the costly program could cause a bus driver shortage.
Association president Lorrie Jess, who is also school board chair for Wolf Creek Public Schools, said her rural school division runs about 72 buses and has had a hard time recruiting and retaining drivers, especially to work as spares. The new training won’t help, she said.
“Sometimes, our transportation manager has had to hop on the bus and drive the route,” Jess said.
She said there was no consultation with school jurisdictions and no funding provided for the training.
“We support training bus drivers. Student safety is forefront at all times. The ASBA with other educational partners has been trying to work with Alberta government on this. But it was implemented so quick,” Jess said.
Kurt Sacher, superintendent at Chinook’s Edge School Division, agreed driver shortages are already a challenge.
“We think that this will just exacerbate a problem where we may not be able to offer certain routes because we won’t have the drivers. It’s frightening for us in that regard,” Sacher said.
He said extracurricular programs may be at risk, or costs may increase, if volunteer drivers don’t want to go through more training. Changes to training for bus drivers really shows a lack of understanding by Alberta Transportation, he said.
“We were already going above and beyond from a safety point of view. Bus drivers have higher expectation than many of the individuals driving mass transportation on highways today,” Sacher said.
Bev Manning, board chair with Red Deer Public Schools, said her district contracts Prairie Bus Lines for busing, but some principals and teachers do drive buses for extra curricular activities. The district will need to get feedback from staff on how the new training affects them.
And she is waiting for government funding.
“No matter how you slice it, we’re not funded sufficiently for buses. I think it’s only fair if they’re going to put in more rules and regulations. It will have an effect on your bottom line,” Manning said.