Buses are back
School buses are running in the Hills, but for how long?
School buses in West Quebec have agreed to take students in the Hills to and from school, but they are still without an official labour contract, as operators in the Outaouais continue to strike down offers from the province’s transportation ministry.
According to Western Quebec School Board (WQSB) general director Mike Dubeau, while an agreement in principle was reached by the province’s school bus federation and the province in late August, operators in the Outaouais rejected it when it landed on the table.
“When the federation agreed with the ministry on the financial aspects, the transporters – when they got back to their local board – said, ‘No, this doesn’t work.’ It didn’t meet their financial demands,” explained Dubeau. “We still have a lot of negotiations ahead.”
Negotiations went back to the table last week, and while an agreement was reached to add $4,000 per bus contract for English school boards in the Montreal area, operators in the Outaouais were excluded from the deal.
However, the WQSB reached an agreement with most of its operators to run buses while these negotiations continue. There are still some students in West Quebec – depending on where they live – who won’t have access to busing. Dubeau told the Low Down that negotiations have moved from the Ministry of Transportation to Quebec’s Treasury Board.
Cantley resident Amanda DeGrace said she is happy her kids will have a ride to school in the interim, but worries about how long her three kids – especially her oldest – will have to spend on the bus every day.
Although she lives just 10 kilometres from Hadley junior high school, her son will spend more than two hours on the bus every morning, as he loops around Chelsea and then has to transfer to his Hadley bus.
“I’m happy there are buses; I have concerns for kids going to Hadley who have the bus transfer,” said DeGrace. “My son gets on the bus at 6:45 [a.m.], goes to Chelsea school and then transfers buses to go to Hadley. I think it’s a long time on a bus for that age. If these kids also would like to do sports and extracurriculars, it makes for very long days for them.”
DeGrace’s son has already signed up for the football team, which will make for some long days for both student and parent. She also said she worries about the long-term sustainability of an interim agreement and fears that things could easily break down again.
“My fingers are crossed that an agreement that is fair to everybody comes into play, but until then, we just don’t know if transportation will be provided long-term this year,” she said.
Dubeau said the school board is poised to get a deal done, but assured parents that their kids would have transportation in the meantime.
“They’re going to run our buses and we’re continuing to negotiate,” he said.
French schools in the Centre de services scolaires des Portages-de-l’Outaouais service centre (formerly school board), including Grand Boisé in Chelsea, and Des Lacs high school and École au Coeur-des-Collines in Masham, have also reached agreements in principle. Buses were expected to run to those schools on the first day of classes, Sept. 1.
Furry morning at Chelsea School
Students at Chelsea Elementary got an exciting first day when staff had to lock the students indoors when a couple of bears were spotted near the school. Staff sent an email to parents on the morning of Aug. 30 alerting them that the school had initiated a “LOCK-IN,” which means all of the students had been locked inside until the threat was no longer present. As of press time, Chelsea fire and the MRC des Collines Police were on site attempting to lure two bear cubs down from a tree.
“I have visited each homeroom to assure students that they are safe and that at this time of year bears need to eat a lot before winter hibernation. The bears are currently eating apples in a tree on Old Chelsea Road,” wrote principal Andrea Gage. She added that parents should expect students to “come home excited.