Potential back-to-school bus disruption

JOHNSTOWN – Thousands of families across Eastern Ontario may be scrambling for another way to get their kids to school this fall. Student Transportation of Eastern Ontario issued an update on contract talks with school bus companies in the region for the upcoming school year saying the two groups were far apart.

“STEO’s most recent proposal provided to the bus companies was rejected,” the company said. “School bus companies have not agreed to a contract for September.”

STEO is a not-for-profit company jointly owned by the Upper Canada District School Board and the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario. The two school boards collectively have approximately 30,000 students requiring bus transportation, or three-quarters of the total school population. The two English-language boards serve an area from Gananoque, Perth, and Carleton Place, east to the Quebec border – excluding Ottawa.

STEO and a group of 23 school bus operators for the region have been negotiating a new contract since this past March.

“The total compensation value of the school bus operators’ position far exceeds funding available to school boards for transportation,” the company said in its update.

If a contract is not agreed to by the start of school September 5, families may have to find alternative transportation arrangements.

The company claims it made a multi-year offer to school bus companies that exceeded the rate of inflation, covered all fuel costs for bus operators, and offered driver recruitment and retention bonuses. Staffing for bus operators have been an issue since 2020.

Inquiries to several of the bus companies were not responded to by publication deadline.

Consortium representatives said that due to costs involved, it cannot provide alternative transportation for students.

STEO was started in 2009 after the province forced the two partner school boards to merge their transportation systems together.

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