Consortium 'like the Senate,' Bellmore says
The latest school bus cancellations prompted a Sudbury Catholic District School Board trustee to compare the Sudbury Student Services Consortium to the Senate at the board's Jan. 29 meeting.
School buses have been cancelled a total of three times this school year by the consortium, which provides transportation for all four local school boards.
The latest instance was Jan. 22, when buses were cancelled in the morning because extreme cold weather meant the vehicles wouldn't start, but students were picked up in the afternoon after temperatures warmed up.
Trustee Michael Bellmore said he receives phone calls from parents when buses are cancelled, even though trustees are not involved in the decision to cancel transportation.
He said he'd like trustees with the four local school boards to have a seat on the consortium's board. There seems to be little communication between trustees and the consortium about what goes into bus cancellations, Bellmore said.
“The disgruntled parents rightly call their trustees, who should be able to give them information lickety-split,” she said.
“It's like the Senate. Stuff goes on, and nobody really knows what's going on. It's prudent that as the ratepayers for this and as the overseers of this as part of our budget, we need to have a bigger say.”
Bellmore made the comments in response to a report from director of education Catherine McCullough on the Jan. 22 school bus cancellations.
When the consortium cancels school buses, boards still have to pay 80 per cent of what it would normally cost on that date, she said.
The Jan. 22 morning-only school bus cancellation was in response to a request from Sudbury Catholic, McCullough said.
“Easily a third more children were present at school that day” because parents knew they'd be picked up, she said.
Trustee Paula Peroni said she thinks parents are “fed up” with the consortium over the large number of snow days in the past few years.
The consortium also hasn't been clear about whether the school bus cancellations are due to equipment failure or to protect students' safety.
“It was like crying chicken little,” she said. “Every time we turned around, we had another snow day, and we're still not sure what the reason was. This has got to stop.”
The fact that the consortium receives 80 per cent of its usual payment when buses don't run is also unacceptable, Peroni said.
The trustees' call to have a seat on the consortium's board is one they also made last year as Sudbury Catholic wrangled with the impact of skyrocketing transportation costs.
Senior administrators from all four school boards already have a seat on the consortium's board.
Board chair Jody Cameron said when he approached trustees from Sudbury Catholic's conterminous boards about the issue last year, the response was lukewarm to cold.
“They didn't see that it was necessary,” he said.
However, Cameron promised to bring up the issue with other boards again.
Sudbury Catholic trustees also agreed to ask the consortium for more information about its policies and procedures, and to ask the organization's executive director, Renee Boucher, to speak at a future meeting if necessary.