By Lethbridge Herald on January 27, 2020.
City council has granted local school boards a reprieve of one year before pulling out of the school busing business for good.
During Monday’s public meeting city council members unanimously approved signing an additional one-year contract after the current busing contract expires with Lethbridge School Division and Holy Spirit Catholic Schools in July. The new contract will give both school divisions until July 31, 2021 to put a new agency in charge of the city’s school bus service.
Lethbridge School Division board chair Clark Bosch applauded council for allowing “common sense to prevail” despite the sometimes heated public debate on the busing issue following the City’s announcement late last year that it would no longer be offering the service.
“What’s most important here is we are now able to allow busing to be done in the best possible way for our parents and our students,” Bosch said. “This extra year of transition will allow us to explore avenues, and the most important thing is we are enabled now to make sure our parents will get the best possible situation when they bus their children.”
Mayor Chris Spearman said he hoped the additional year would allow for a smoother transition for school boards.
“We have always committed to a smooth transition,” he said. “The last thing we want to do is create a lower level of service for the smallest citizens of our city. We want to make sure it’s done safely, and conducted by people who are trained to drive the buses properly. And we want to make sure that there’s no added cost for school divisions.”
Spearman stated back in November he felt, at that time, like nine months should be enough of a transition for school boards to assume all busing responsibilities. He admitted on Monday in meetings held since between City staff and school board staff some previously unconsidered complications had arisen.
“We were looking at it without maybe a fulsome knowledge of all the implications,” explained Spearman. “We were told today of something like 165 issues that had to be managed; so we will allow that process to occur and look for regular updates on where we are on those 165 issues.”
Some of those issues include things like getting the school boards designated as approved bus transporters by the province, hiring new drivers and figuring out ownership of the current fleet of school buses, some of which were paid for by Holy Spirit and some of which were paid by Lethbridge School Division.
Holy Spirit board chair Judy Lane said it was “kind” of council to allow for an additional year of transition, and she said her board hoped to team up with Lethbridge School Division’s board to create a co-service agreement.
“I think there is strength in numbers,” she said, “and we’re all in the same city working for the same end result. We will work together and keep working together.”
“We’re going to do it together,” he said. “We have done it together for a long time, and that’s my hope … We would like to continue to work together to provide the best service for our students and parents.”
Not all on council were happy with providing the additional one-year contract despite the unanimous vote on the issue. Coun. Joe Mauro said he was tempted to vote against the arrangement because he was worried council would begin to backslide on other tough choices they have to make during the operational review process.
“I understand maybe it’s difficult for the school boards to transition in the short amount of time we have given them,” he stated. “We all thought that the nine months we had given them was plenty of time. They think it’s not; so we’re here today. But what concerns me more than anything is that of the other recommendations we have heard; those were all tough decisions as well … That’s why we’re doing these reviews. They are not fun, and we know we are going to offend a lot of organizations as we have kind of touched a soft spot here (with the school boards).”
Follow @TimKalHerald on Twitter