School divisions urge City of Lethbridge to reconsider school bus contract
There was an impassioned plea from the superintendents of the Lethbridge School Division and Holy Spirit Catholic School Division on Monday, as the pair renewed their calls for the City of Lethbridge to reconsider its decision to not renew their current school bus agreement when it expires next summer.
The pair addressed members of city council, who were meeting as the community issues committee.
The city’s decision to not renew their existing school bus contract was among the first-phase recommendations of an independent operational review.
The city said liability concerns are among the reasons it doesn’t want to renew the existing agreement, which currently runs off a cost-recovery model with the two school divisions.
The city said it wants zero risks, though the school divisions maintain nobody had asked them to address a liability issue, and are willing to work with the city to explore options to mitigate any risks.
During what was — at times — a contentious meeting, both superintendents also addressed the time constraints they’re now under to ensure busing for the upcoming school year.
They said there isn’t enough time to assume their own busing operations and their only immediate option is to secure a private school bus provider.
“Private companies go into the business for a reason,” said Cheryl Gilmore, the superintendent of the Lethbridge School Division.
“They’re not going to say, ‘Oh well, I guess you’ve always been cost-neutral, so we’re not going to charge you anything for our service.'”
The school division said a two-year window would offer more time to engage with the city and develop their own school bus model, though both superintendents remain hopeful the city will reconsider disbanding its five decades-long busing relationship.
Both superintendents remain concerned about the financial impact of shifting their school busing to a private company.
“It would be difficult to believe that an independent contractor is going to come in and do a cost-recovery — they’re in it to make a profit, and so they should,” said Chris Smeaton, the superintendent of the Holy Spirit Catholic School Division.
“To assume that it’s going to be the same amount, the same cost as what it is now, I think would be arrogant at best for us to think.”