School board doesn’t budge on bus

The Rainy River District School Board voted against a motion to revisit a previous decision not to replace a special school bus at Atikokan High School during its regular monthly meeting there last week.
Fort Frances trustee Donna Dittaro had submitted a written request to chair Dan Belluz prior to the meeting for a reconsideration of the board’s motion from its meeting of March 6, when trustees initially voted against replacing the bus.
Her decision to submit the motion was “based on the overwhelming feedback the board had received from the community,” Dittaro said.
The motion pointed out the input the board received from Atikokan students, staff, parent council members, municipal councillors, and general community members, and their overwhelming support for the replacement of the bus, as a reason to reconsider the issue.
It also noted “the current level of school bus outings cannot be maintained at the same level with a contracted bus.”
Only Dittaro and First Nation trustee Gary Allen voted in favour of the motion. All the other trustees—including Atikokan trustee Judy Eluik—voted against it.
“All the rest of the trustees thought it wasn’t worth considering. They had already made the decision and they felt comfortable with it,” Belluz noted.
“As it stands right now, the bus services next year for extra-curricular activities will be contracted out,” he added.
“I think that they had already made up their minds,” charged David Boileau, an Atikokan businessman who made a presentation to the board at last Tuesday night’s meeting on why the bus should be replaced.
“There was no compelling reason they were able to present to show the school would be better off with a contracted bus,” he added.
Prior to the meeting, Belluz, Dittaro, Allen, and Education Director Jack McMaster met with the AHS parent council so they could have their questions answered directly.
The board has stated in the past months that its decision was based on risk-management issues rather than financial reasons.
Liabilities, including breakdowns and repairs, as well as insurance and accidents, were the main motivation for the board’s decision, McMaster noted.
The regular meeting convened at 7 p.m. in the gym at AHS. Some 200-300 people attended the meeting, according to various sources.
Trustees heard from two members of the Save Our Bus committee before voting on the issue.
Boileau and fellow Atikokan resident Vic Prokopchuk each explained to the board the importance of the school bus, which transports students on special class trips and is not used for transportation between home and school.
“Most of the presentations were very similar to what we had already encountered, either by e-mail or presentation or letters. There was really nothing too much new,” Belluz said.
The board has indicated its main reason for not replacing the 12-year-old bus is liability issues.
“There’s a lot of things schools do—with kids in sports and wrestling, just having kids going to school on school buses—that have risks associated with it,” Boileau told the Times yesterday.
“And you can’t download risk to a contractor because you’re always paying for it through the bid price.
“There are no liability issues that cannot be managed,” Boileau argued.
The board has stated it will provide $3,000 in additional transportation funding to AHS next year to help offset the costs of contracting out the service, and to support the special programs that depend on the bus, such as the “Outers” and Natural Resources Technology courses.
“I really believe next year they should have a surplus,” Belluz noted.
The AHS bus is driven by five teachers who obtained their Class ‘B’ licence on their own time.
“The teachers should be given an award for volunteerism,” Boileau said, rather than have their resources taken away.
“The consequences will be a loss of trust between the community and the board,” he warned.
“Nothing prevents the board from reversing its decision. It’s never too late to step back and reconsider.”
The Save Our Bus committee held a meeting Monday night to discuss what their next move will be.