Board switches to full contract busing

Starting in August, the Rainy River District School Board no longer will have bus drivers as board employees, instead employing strictly contract drivers.
Darlene Ferniuk, the board’s communications and transportation co-ordinator, said Tuesday the decision was made due to the high cost of maintaining the buses, or in her words, “being in the transportation business.”
“It’s a board decision that we’re implementing. We’re working to implement different efficiencies,” she noted. “In this case, it’s integration, because we’ll be working with the Northwest Catholic District School Board and Atikokan.
“Having two buses go down the same route is inefficient,” she stressed. “This is to provide a more efficient service for students, both public and Catholic.”
Ferniuk, pointing out enrolment is down, said it was only logical to pare down the numbers of buses with only a small number of students on them.
“And the transportation funding has been at 1997 levels [while] the cost of transporting students has changed since then,” she added.
The changeover has resulted in the termination of 14 bus drivers as of the end of the 2000-01 school year. Drivers were informed of this last August.
But along with their severance packages, drivers were given the option to purchase a board bus and continue working as independent contractors.
“Some are in the process of making those decisions for themselves,” noted Ferniuk, adding she wasn’t sure how many drivers would return in the fall.
But at least one former board driver felt that after many months of talks, the reality of the situation was a blow.
“Even though we knew it was coming, we were not prepared for what happened,” Aleata Jerry, a board bus driver for 14 years, wrote in a letter to the editor to the Times.
“We assumed we were to be treated fairly. We were wrong,” she charged.
“The Employment Standards Act said, at the least, we were to get one week of pay for every year of service–that is, if you are employed for more than five years.
“I received one week for each year, but for [all] the years that I worked eight hours, I received [only] one week at 5.25 hours,” she remarked.
Over the past few years, board drivers had experienced a reduction in the number of work hours. Instead of being paid for eight hours a day, they were paid for 5.25.
Contract bus drivers normally have been paid for 5.25 hours a day.
She also noted sick days weren’t counted in the severance package. “I think that it is very unfair,” Jerry argued. “I calculate that the board saved just over $4,500 on my severance pay and sick days, and more than that from the other employees that were terminated.
“I feel like we were not treated with decency or even as a valued employees,” she added.
The school board currently employs about 20 independent contractors, some with more than one bus.