Due to unsuccessful negotiations between the school transportation agency and bus companies, students in two local school boards may be without bus transportation when classes resume on Tuesday, September 5.

Student Transportation of Eastern Ontario (STEO) provides transportation for students in the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario (CDSBEO) and the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB). The local schools operated by those boards include St. Jude Catholic School and Pleasant Corners Public School near Vankleek Hill, Vankleek Hill Collegiate Institute, and Laggan Public School.

STEO is a not-for-profit organization that negotiates annual service contracts with school bus companies that own the school vehicles and employ the school bus drivers.

Since March 2023, STEO has been working to secure student transportation services with the existing school bus companies that provide transportation for both CDSBEO and UCDSB.

STEO has made every effort with the existing school bus companies to secure student transportation service for the upcoming school year, while recognizing the challenges companies face in recruiting and retaining drivers. Unfortunately, STEO’s latest in a series of offers was rejected by the school bus companies on August 19, 2023, which means that there is a potential for disruption of transportation services at the start of the school year.

At present, STEO and the bus companies remain very far apart with respect to the overall compensation requested. The total compensation value of the school bus operators’ position far exceeds funding available to school boards for transportation.

The most recent STEO proposal was a multi-year offer that provided annual increases above the rate of inflation, included all driver recruitment and retention bonuses being funded by the provincial government, and continued the practice of full compensation for rising fuel costs.

The school bus companies rejected this offer and responded with a counteroffer that far exceeds the funding available to school boards for student transportation services. This response demonstrates a significant gap between the parties, that the school boards cannot bridge without removing funds from the classroom.

STEO transports approximately 30,000 students to school daily and understands the stress this potential disruption will cause families. STEO continues to explore all options to providing transportation services for the 2023/2024 school year.