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Under the Northern Lights - March 23, 2022

Transportation Update

Matt Richter, Transportation Director, provided the Board with an update on some of the challenges the transportation department has been experiencing this year.

Weather has had a bigger impact on operations this year than in previous year. So far, the division has cancelled buses on seven days for all schools in the division and there were an additional six days when buses were cancelled in one community or region of the division. Richter praised the professionalism and dedication of the division's drivers who drove students how in difficult road and weather conditions. 

The division also continues to experience many of the same challenges as it did last year, but at a more severe level. Richter said the driver shortage is now the most extreme the division has experienced with no solution in sight. COVID has impacted driver absences and with no substitute drivers available, routes have had to be cancelled temporarily until someone is available to driver that route.

Recruitment and retention has also been difficult as it is a part time job with a split shift and it is more financially feasible for most people to work a full-time minimum wage job. Training continues to impact recruitment as well due to the length of the course. As well, industry is also recruiting drivers with Class 2 training. 

Insurance also continues to be an issue. After a big increase last year, operators were hit with another substantial increase this year as well as an increase in their deductibles from $2,500 to $10,000. It is unknown at this time what insurance costs will look like for next year. Richter said this is going to make it difficult for contractors to commit to routes in June when they don't know what is happening with insurance costs.

Fuel costs have become a greater concern this year. Richter noted that when contractors signed their contracts in June 2021, diesel was at 94 cents/litre and it is now $1.90 cents/litre. On some runs, operators are now paying more for fuel than what they get paid for the route.

While the provincial budget included a 4.6% increase to transportation funding, Richter said that will not be enough to offset any of the increases bus contractors are experiencing. 

Richter noted he had discussed the possibility of working with the other local school divisions to find some efficiencies, but with the divisions running buses at capacity and experiencing a driver shortage, there would be little impact on the overall number of buses and drivers that are needed. He noted that while people in rural areas may see buses that are not full, by the time the buses arrive at schools they are at capacity. To transport as many students to school as possible, bus drivers in some communities are doing double runs, dropping off a full load of students and then picking up more students in town. 


Good News Items

  • Nicole Garner, Communications and Public Relations Manager, presented the Board with highlights from throughout the division focused on what schools are doing to encourage Student Voice. The full presentation is available on our website: Good News - March 23, 2022 - Student Voice.


Cold Lake Configuration Update

Bill Driedger, Associate Superintendent, reported on some of the work being done to support the changes to grade configurations being made at schools in Cold Lake next year. In September, Cold Elementary will become a K-3 school, Nelson Heights a 4-7 school, Cold Lake High 10-12, North Star Elementary K-5 and Cold Lake Middle School 6-9. This is the second year of a three-year transition plan for the schools and the one with the most changes.

Human Resources has begun the process of determining where staff will be located next year. Once that is completed, the division will work on filling open positions.

Schools are continuing to discuss transferring resources between schools and ensuring adequate furniture and supplies at schools whose enrolments are growing. School staff are also working with students and families on plans to ease transitions for students as they prepare to go to new schools in September.


Three-Year Capital Plan

The Board reviewed and approved changes to the division's Three-Year Capital Plan. Previously, the division's priorities on the Three-Year Capital Plan were a replacement school for Vera M. Welsh Elementary in Lac La Biche, a modernization at Ecole Plamondon School, a replacement school for Caslan School that would be build on Buffalo Lake Metis Settlement, and a modernization of North Star Elementary in Cold Lake.

The Board decided to change the North Star project from a modernization to a replacement school and moved it up on the list to the #2 priority. A replacement for Vera M. Welsh Elementary remains the division's top priority. A school for Buffalo Lake remains the #3 priority, with Ecole Plamondon's modernization as the fourth priority. 

Trustees asked if some of the work that was included in the Ecole Plamondon modernization could be done with Capital Maintenance and Renewal funding. Paula Elock, Secretary-Treasurer, noted that parts of the project had already been completed by the division. She noted that the division is considering including some of the remaining parts of the modernizations in its CMR plans. However, a major component of that project is a home economics lab which would exceed the project limits for that funding. 

The new Capital Plan will be posted on our website once the submission to Alberta Education has been finalized.


FNMI Report

Jimmi Lou Irvine, Associate Superintendent, reviewed the annual FNMI Report with the Board. 

Irvine noted that the number of students being served through Jordan's Principle have increased from 7 to 55 over the last year. This has resulted in the addition of more educational assistants at some schools, as well as additional administrative time needed to meet the monitoring and reporting required to access the funding.

High school completion rates for First Nations, Metis and Inuit students increased significantly last year. NLPS continues to support high school students by ensuring academic counselling is available to all students as they work toward meeting graduation requirements.

A team from NLPS is currently developing on an asynchronous learning opportunity for staff that would help support them in developing foundational knowledge about First Nations, Metis and Inuit. The goal is to support current staff as they continue their learning in this area as well as providing new staff with a resource to help them become knowledgeable. It would include information applicable to the communities that NLPS serves.