School district needs more bus mechanics

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools says they’re getting a handle on its school bus driver shortage, but now are troubled with fewer mechanics.

In June, NLPS staff reported to trustees challenges with recruiting enough bus drivers. Since then, a few new individuals have been hired, Secretary Treasurer Mark Walsh told the business committee at their Dec. 7 meeting. Now, the school district’s in-house maintenance crew is diminished.

NLPS budgets for four mechanics, but has one vacancy due to retirement and another mechanic on leave.

As need has arisen in the past, NLPS has outsourced maintenance to the private sector. As the school district pushes its recruitment drive, it has needed to lean more on private repair shops and dealerships though that produces its own challenges, like taking buses out of the fleet longer than if work were to be done in house, Pete Sabo, NLPS executive director of planning & operations, said.

Some isolated incidents of students having to wait longer to be picked up have already occurred as busses have had to double up on routes while others are serviced, staff said.

“The lack of repair can manifest itself with [Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement] inspection failures, which takes busses off the road until they can be repaired,” a staff report says. “It also jeopardizes future approval of our in-house preventative maintenance program with CVSE.”

NLPS plans to expand its recruitment to out-of-province and even internationally, staff said. While staff said the CUPE positions provide a competitive benefits package and pension, many private industry jobs pay more than the school district.

Trustees asked what other incentives could be offered to prospective employees, but staff said that becomes a bigger discussion regarding contractual agreements with the union.

The school district is also competing with higher paying municipal jobs, Jeff Virtanen, CUPE representative, noted.

If the recruitment efforts don’t bear fruit, staff are also looking at reviewing bus routes for the potential of merging certain routes, reducing the number of drivers required, and prioritizing for potential route or trip cancellations.

Rachelle Stein-Wotten, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder