The Gleaner

With bus crisis averted, the NFSB looks toward a positive start to school year

Parents hoping to capture those annual first-day photos as the school bus pulls up to the curb may now be in luck.

An agreement in principle, reached between the Quebec government and the Fédération des transporteurs par autobus (FTA) on August 19, represents an essential step in ensuring school transportation contacts can be signed between school boards and service centres and local bussing companies. According to a statement issued by the Ministère de l’Éducation, the agreement, which covers a six-year period, will “ensure safe and reliable transportation for all students for the start of the school year.”

The announcement comes as a relief for school administrators who were left with little choice than to issue letters to families last week warning there was a risk parents would be responsible for transporting their children to and from school.


A last minute agreement made by Quebec and the FTA means contracts between school bus providers and school boards and service centres can now be signed ensuring bus transportation in time for the start of the school year PHOTO Sarah Rennie


“This is positive news for back-to-school,” says New Frontiers School Board (NFSB) general director Rob Buttars, who admits the stalled negotiations had left the board, which runs approximately 60 bus routes, in a difficult situation.

“After two years of pandemic, this was not a good optic,” he said of the additional stress on school administrators and parents. “It was not a good feeling,” he acknowledged, noting he also felt for transporters who are dealing with complex issues, including inflation and rising operation and fuel expenses, labour shortages and rising costs, service disruptions, and the looming electrification of the bus network. “They are a big part of the community,” says Buttars of the school bus providers and drivers.

On August 17 the government called in special negotiator Claude Sauvageau, who was able to orchestrate a breakthrough. The details of the agreement will remain confidential until a vote has taken place; however, the FTA board of directors is recommending its adoption.

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge says the agreement includes significant investments while promoting greater stability in the school transportation sector.

For Buttars, the agreement will allow schools to return to a “focus on teaching, learning, and fun as we head back to class.” He admits there is work to be done when it comes to getting students excited for school and engaged in classes and extracurriculars.

This is also the third start to a school year in the shadow of the pandemic. Buttars says that while there are no government decrees in place, the board will continue to supply masks to students and staff who prefer to wear them. All students will receive two rapid test kits at the start of the year, but there are no plans to continue to supply families with tests after this.

Testing within the schools of those who develop symptoms during the day will continue, and administrators will monitor and report absences to the ministry on a weekly basis.

Buttars says he is anticipating more collaboration with the Montérégie-West Integrated Health and Social Services Centre (CISSSMO) in terms of vaccination boosters, but nothing concrete has been organized.

Regarding staffing, the NFSB is continuing to hire teachers and staff, but “It is not a dire situation,” says Buttars, who admits they are doing well as a board compared with other areas. “We have a community in which people like to work,” he suggests, saying he is confident all will fall into place.

“This summer has been really good,” he says, adding that staff, teachers, and administrators are recharged and excited about the new school year.

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