Elk Island Public Schools (EIPS) is concerned about the potential impact that a new training requirement could have on the classroom and student transportation.
Effective July 31, new school bus operators are required to complete the Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT), an enhanced driver training program. It was originally set to come into effect on March 1, but Education Minister David Eggen extended the deadline after receiving feedback from school boards.
"The safety of students getting to and from school is always of the utmost importance for us, so there certainly aren't questions around implementing the MELT program for that reason," said EIPS board chair Trina Boymook. "It comes down to cost."
As such, members of the Alberta School Boards Association — including EIPS — are asking the province to help offset some of the expenses associated with the program.
"We typically have to bring on a minimum of 15 new drivers per year — like anything, there's always a degree of turnover that takes place," Boymook explained. "The training for each of those drivers is about $5000 to $6000, so we're looking at our transportation costs increasing by $77,000 per year in order to ensure that we have enough drivers."
Without financial support from the government, Boymook continued, those costs would likely draw from funds allocated to the classroom.
"The other choice is to run less buses," she noted. "When you have less buses on the road, the ride times go up for students."
A number of school boards have also applied to become accredited trainers for the MELT program.
If approved, it would create the necessary capacity to train the number of drivers needed before next fall.