/School bus driver shortage ‘continues to be a challenge’

School bus driver shortage ‘continues to be a challenge’

By Sue Tiffin

The following are brief reports of items discussed at the board of trustees meeting of Trillium Lakelands District School Board held virtually on April 12.

Haliburton County’s school board trustee Gary Brohman asked about bus driver shortages, how they were being handled, and their impact on students who need transportation for extracurricular activities, noting he’d had discussions recently with parents who had expressed concern about the issue. 

“Do we have enough? Are we using our bus companies, or charter, or are parents driving?” asked Brohman. 

Superintendent Tim Ellis said bus drivers are not employed by the board, and that it’s the responsibility of operators to hire those employees. 

“The driver shortage due to COVID was very apparent at the beginning of the year and continues to be a challenge,” Ellis told the board. “Finding bus drivers, particularly in areas such as Haliburton, is very difficult for our providers.”

Brohman asked if bus driver companies advertise for bus drivers locally, and Ellis said he believed they do. He said the operators were doing the best they could to retain drivers and support extracurricular activities. 

Superintendent Kim Williams said extracurricular coaches were “working quite hard,” on arranging transportation to take students to and from after school activities and events, first checking with bus companies, and if that is not an option due to the driver shortages, looking to parent volunteers who have completed the necessary paperwork to help. 

Brohman asked if there was an honorarium for parents driving, and Williams said, “Each school handles that differently, we leave it up to them to manage their budgets, and they are entitled to do that.”  

Trillium Lakelands District School Board trustees met at the Lindsay Education Centre for a board meeting last week. /Screenshot from April 12 TLDSB meeting

Absence rate percentages under 30 per cent threshold

“We haven’t had a lot of issues where we’ve had to consider moving classes online but I would say we’ve had five or six situations where we’ve had to do that,” said Wes Hahn, director, in his report to the board.

“We’re cautious about that, we know that if we see sudden spikes in schools as I described before we’re going to be cautious and move them online. Right now, at this point in time we are managing it and we hope that it starts to subside, because it does create stress within a building. At this point we’re not dealing with widespread online classes, but we’re monitoring it on a day-to-day basis.”

Hahn said “for the most part” schools across the board have stayed below the 30 per cent threshold for absences. He thanked superintendents and parents and families for screening and keeping their kids home while ill. 

As of an April 14 update reporting the percentage of staff and students being absent at each school, percentage rates are as follows: Archie Stouffer Elementary School,16.4 per cent; Cardiff Elementary School, 13.3 per cent; Haliburton Highlands Secondary School, 19.3 per cent; J. Douglas Hodgson, 14 per cent; Stuart Baker Elementary School, 15.6 per cent and Wilberforce Elementary School, 13.3 per cent.

TLDSB educators from across the board took part in a director’s panel on the OHRC Right to Read Report, on April 8. “The important work taking place today will support the development of an evidence-based reading model for TLDSB,” read a post on the board’s social media page. /Photo from TLDSB

School rental available again

Since March, community use of schools has been available again, with school facilities in the area open for rentals by community groups for programming.

“With the recent lifting of restrictions by the province, the board has been able to allow community use of its facilities once again,” said Tim Ellis, superintendent of business services, in his report to the board. “Groups offering programs such as youth basketball, community yoga, seniors fitness classes, etc., are able to once again obtain permits to use our facilities.” Some schools only allow rentals on weekends, he said, while others only allow rental of outdoor spaces at this time. Ellis said there were currently 76 active permits. 

Rental rates were brought to cost recovery rates in May 2021, said Ellis, with some fees implemented and some existing fees increased to help cover costs to the board – not generate revenue – in providing the space. 

“For example, new rates were used when providing community use permits to area health units carrying out vaccination clinics in our school facilities for their area community,” said Ellis in his report. 

TLDSB does not charge users for custodial fees for weekday rentals, unlike other boards in the area, and provides a heavily discounted rate for not-for-profit groups.