Parents call on Queen’s Park to fire school bus leadership

Some Ottawa parents are calling for the Ministry of Education to fire and replace the executive leadership of the agency that organizes student transportation in the city’s English-language school boards.

The call comes five weeks after parents and students were left scrambling due to hundreds more cancelled bus runs affecting thousands of students.

Jennifer Bugden, a parent and president of the Munster Community Association, was one of the petition organizers.

“We, the undersigned, petition … That the Minister of Education mandate the immediate resignation of the general manager of the Ottawa Student Transportation Authority as well as all OSTA executives, and the Ministry of Education oversee the hiring of new, competent leadership,” the petition reads in part.

She wanted the petition to go ahead even though the general manager and chief administrative officer of OSTA is on a recently announced leave of absence.

“Rural Ottawa has been affected greatly by the lack of organization, the lack of priority to students who have no other means of getting to school,” Bugden said.

“The Ministry of Education does need to step in and oversee what is happening with OSTA,” she said.

A woman stand in front of a school holding a petition.
Jennifer Bugden holds an earlier petition she sent to Queen’s Park calling for the reopening of Munster Elementary School to address the ongoing school bus cancellations. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

Bugden said parents are concerned about poor communication and a lack of efficiency from school buses that are running.

Late Wednesday afternoon, OSTA announced its board of directors had appointed an interim operations manager — a different job title than the position temporarily vacated by long-time general manager Vicky Kyriaco.

Cindy Owens was named to the interim role.

Presented in Queen’s Park

The petition was presented by Carleton Progressive Conservative MPP Goldie Ghamari.

“We’re talking parents who might not have that flexibility or leniency in their job to spend up to three hours a day dropping off and picking up their students,” she said. “It’s really heartbreaking.”

Ghamari said Kyriaco’s leave of absence has left parents with more questions than answers.

Ghamari said the Ministry of Education is responding to OSTA’s concern about $6-million funding shortfall after a change to the provincial transportation funding formula by coming to an agreement with English-language boards and providing $1.8 million for this school year.

A woman with dark hair wearing a blue dress.
Carleton MPP Goldie Ghamari presented the petition Wednesday. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Ghamari said the agency should have communicated the issue more clearly and in advance to parents as well as preparing a Plan B.

“You would think that the people who are responsible for procuring contracts and figuring out the routes would have some sort of Plan B in place,” Ghamari said.

“Ultimately, it’s not the [Ministry of Education] that determines the routes. It’s not the ministry that procures the contracts. That responsibility is up to OSTA and the leadership at OSTA.”

Ghamari said she’s been reassured by the English-language boards that communication will improve. She said the Ministry of Education has also commissioned a third-party review of OSTA operations by Deloitte. 

A spokesperson for Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the ministry has been responding to this “Ottawa-specific problem.”

“Across the entire province, Ottawa’s English school boards represent more than 70% of the disruptions,” Isha Chaudhuri said in a statement.

“We will continue to hold the school boards and transportation consortia to account to ensure Ottawa families receive the dependable and reliable student transportation services they deserve.”

Ministry ‘pointing fingers,’ NDP critic says

NDP education critic Chandra Pasma said that third-party review will address whatever issues there might be specifically at OSTA , but the new transportation funding formula is the core issue.

“The province has been missing from the table coming up with solutions here. They have been doing nothing but pointing fingers,” said Pasma, who represents Ottawa West–Nepean.

“The province needs to be at the table discussing the real costs of transportation in Ontario, making sure that the funds are there and the solutions are there to make sure that every child gets the transportation they need.”

Pasma said the funding formula should account for the increased cost of bus operations, including what’s needed to hire and retain drivers.

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