Lethbridge MLA chairing committee to consider private school buses

The Government of Alberta announced the Student Transportation Task Force, which Lethbridge–East MLA Nathan Neudorf will chair. On the surface, it actually seems pretty benign.

This past Sunday, the Government of Alberta announced the Student Transportation Task Force, which they say will “provide recommendations on the future of student transportation across the province.”

Lethbridge–East MLA Nathan Neudorf will chair it.

On the surface, it actually seems pretty benign, with the committee focusing on various issues related to student transportation:

  • Student safety
  • Costs
  • Eligibility
  • Responsibilities of school authorities

These all seem like worthwhile things to review. But there’s some wording in the release that should be worrying.

For example, also appearing in the list of issues were the following:

  • Partner collaboration
  • Responsibilities of industry partners

Anytime you see “partner” in conservative government documents, it nearly always refers to private companies.

Also in the release was the following statement:

Members will also consider various service delivery models and services for students with disabilities when developing their recommendations.

“Various service models” will invariably include private providers, especially when you consider the use of “partner” in the rhetoric of the release.

See also the following quote from Adriana LaGrange, the education minister:

We committed to improving and modernizing the education system in Alberta. Student transportation is an integral part of the system that needs further attention to address the challenges facing our partners who deliver this service. I have asked this task force to explore options, while putting Albertans’ safety first due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They will provide their best advice on how the system can be improved, become more efficient and become more cost-effective in serving Alberta’s students.

The phrases “explore options”, “more efficient”, and “cost-effective” all revolve around the idea of profitizing public services: that everything must generate profit, or at least break even. And combining that with language of “various service models” and “partners”, it seems even more likely that they’ll be heavily invested in exploring private delivery models for busing children to school.

Other MLAs on the task force will be Grande Prairie MLA Tracy Allard, Brooks–Medicine Hat MLA Michaela Glasgo, Drumheller–Stettler MLA Nate Horner, and Calgary–South East MLA Matt Jones.

The task force will also include the following members:

  • Josée Devaney of the Fédération des Conseils Scolaires Francophones de l’Alberta and secretary-treasurer of Greater North Central Francophone Education Region
  • Dexter Durfey, vice-president of Association of School Business Officials of Alberta and secretary-treasurer of Palliser Regional Schools.
  • Trisha Estabrooks, director with Alberta School Boards Association and Edmonton Public School Board trustee
  • Brenda Gibson of the College of Alberta School Superintendents and manager of transportation services with Calgary Board of Education
  • Andrew Knack, director with Alberta Urban Municipalities Association and Edmonton city councillor
  • Jody McKinnon of the Student Transportation Association of Alberta and manager of transportation at Calgary Catholic School District
  • Kathy Rooyakkers, director with Rural Municipalities of Alberta and County of Wetaskiwin councillor
  • Jacquie Surgenor, director with Alberta School Councils’ Association; chair of Committee of School Councils; and a specialist in training, culture and leadership development with Compuvision
  • Chris Gilmour of The Association of Alberta Public Charter Schools, superintendent of schools with Beaufort Delta Education Council, and superintendent of Connect Charter School
  • Yacine Belhadj, area general manager with First Student Canada and vice-president of development with City Wide Towing
  • Mark Critch, president of Sparksman Transportation
  • Brian Hauptman, general manager of student transportation with Golden Arrow Buses
  • Jonathan Weal, director of business development with the student division of Pacific Western Transportation

Note that the last 4 task force members are representing private transportation companies.

It’s interesting that Neudorf was chosen to chair the task force.

Lethbridge City Council recently voted to cancel their contract with the local school boards to provide school bus services. Superintendents with the local school boards say that without the capacity to provide busing themselves, they’ll be left with contracting it out to private companies.

And how the Lethbridge busing operating model evolves may end up being one of the “various service models” the task force considers.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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