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Quebec school bus service still not finalized days before academic year begins


School bus service may not be in place at the start of the school year after all, despite an agreement in principle made last week.

On Friday, the province and the Fédération des transporteurs par autobus (FTA) announced it had come to a last-minute agreement, ensuring "a reliable and safe transportation service for all students for the start of the school year."

That agreement, however, means that it is then up to each school board and service centre to come to an agreement with the carrier or carriers in its territory, using the budget available to it.

Most unions have decided they will not accept their offers, including boards on the island of Montreal.

The Centre de services scolaires de Montréal said that "despite intensive negotiations over the past several months," it has still not been able to conclude a contract with most of its carriers.

One Montreal transport company said on the island alone, it could affect at least 30,000 pupils.

"The current offer, what was proposed on Friday, it makes for a really hard choice for carriers as myself. We come back down to two things: either we maintain safe and secure busses or we have a lack of funding for the drivers, which comes down to the kids' safety," said Andrew Jones, owner of Elite Transport.

School boards are scrambling to figure out how they will open school, with the Montreal CSS telling parents to "plan alternative ways to transport their children in the event that the service is not provided in time for the start of the new school year."

One English school board said it is considering other options, like extended school hours to accommodate working parents, though nothing has been finalized.

Those arrangements still won't work for many parents, said Katherine Korakakis, president of the English Parents Committee Association, especially those who do not have flexible shifts.

"Many people can't have a Plan B, so what do we do then? It's a serious, serious problem. School is a right. Every child has a right to go to school, and bussing is an integral part," she said.

The spokesperson for Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge said he is not available for comment today.

Students in the English school boards on the island of Montreal head back to class next week. Classes in the French system start on Friday. 

- With files from The Canadian Press Top Stories

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