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South East Cornerstone continues to face bus driver shortage

Retention of bus drivers remains a challenge for the school division.
school bus getty
Transportation was discussed at Wednesday's Cornerstone meeting.

WEYBURN - Getting school bus drivers into the driver’s seat continues to be a one basic and never-ending problem for the South East Cornerstone Public School Division.

 According to provincial information, this southeast Saskatchewan school division is not alone.

While recruitment efforts are fairly successful, the retention of these drivers can become an issue, said Andy Dobson, manager of transportation services for Cornerstone.

The transportation report was relayed to board members during their Jan. 17 open business meeting in the division’s head office in Weyburn.

Also present was transportation supervisor Andre Verhaeghe, who joined the team in 2016; Stacey Seguin, who joined the transportation group as an administrative assistant in 2008; and Berla Palmer, another administrative assistant who joined the group about six months ago.

“They are the ones who get the phone calls about issues,” said Dobson, referring to the two women who handle incoming and outgoing calls regarding transportation issues on a daily basis.

Dobson noted the transportation system includes the conveyance of 4,532 students by buses operating within 155 routes in the Cornerstone system. That represents more than half of the division’s total school population.

In terms of bus driver recruitment and retention, Dobson and Verhaeghe ran through a litany of initiatives that have been deployed to attract bus drivers and to keep them employed and deployed on a regular schedule and routes.

Various methods such as newspaper advertisements, newsletters, recruitment fairs, signing bonuses, direct letter campaigns, recruitment bonuses, online ad postings on several sites, mail outs and hand outs at school events and power point presentations were just a part of the continual recruitment efforts.

The division currently has unfilled driver routes to fill in Maryfield, Moosomin, Alameda and Radville, along with two routes to fill out of Carlyle. One route was reduced in the Wawota district and another one was a merged effort in the Lampman area due to driver shortages in 2023, Dobson and Verhaeghe noted.

The report stated that 217 routes had to be cancelled for half-day assignments due to non-availability of substitute drivers, as were 815 full days, which exceeded bus route cancellations due to weather (94 full days) or mechanical issues (19 half days) by a substantial margin.

The transportation manager and supervisor added that the lack of spare bus drivers in all areas is another ongoing dilemma.

The report also included questions regarding car-pooling in the absence of buses plus payment for the same.

It was also said that training expenses for potential drivers is borne by the school division and a bonus payment is made to a new driver, but only after they have served as a regular driver for a period of at least six months.

The longest rural one-way ride time continues to be the Estevan/Torquay run that begins at around 7:30 a.m. and takes up to 90 minutes in general good weather conditions. The average rural one-way ride time continues to be 48 minutes.

The two men also noted after their presentation that a recent order for nine new school buses will not be delayed this year and their arrival will be on schedule, as opposed to a long waiting period that followed the conclusion of pandemic restrictions.