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'Everyone who was on a bus last year will be on a bus again this year,' Churchill says
Nova Scotia’s Education Minister Zach Churchill told CTV News on Wednesday something that will come as a surprise to the parents in the Halifax area whose children waited in vain for a bus on the first day of school.
“In Halifax, everyone who was on a bus last year will be on a bus again this year,” Churchill told CTV Anchor Steve Murphy in an exclusive interview. “I’ve been assured that by the region’s executive lead.”
Churchill said he understands how the uncertainty surrounding busing is “obviously concerning” for parents.
Stock Transportation is a private company that has the contract to provide transportation of students for the Halifax Regional Centre for Education.
As education minister, Churchill is the lead on this issue since the province swept away elected English school boards.
He says the busing problem is one he is well aware of.
“We have to do better there,” he said. “We’ve inherited a busing system that we are committed to improving.”
When asked if he thought the fact that Stock did not have a strong local presence affected their ability to provide better service he said this: “Any operator that’s running that system will want to do its very best to keep the contract; they’re economically motivated to do that.”
Another pressing issue for Churchill has been the structural problems at the Oxford Regional Educational Centre, which is closed indefinitely for repairs. Parents in Oxford are upset that their kids are being bused to Pugwash 26 kilometres away.
“I know that situation is challenging for the parents, but we need to make sure that our kids are safe first and foremost,” Churchill said. “There were some significant safety concerns that were brought to my attention. We had bricks fall out of the mortar on to the floor of the school. That’s obviously not acceptable. That creates a safety and health hazard for our students.”
Churchill said engineers are inspecting the school, opening up walls and looking into ceilings to get an accurate assessment of the problem. He doesn’t know how long it will take but promised repairs will be made “as quickly as they can be.”
It’s not a problem one would expect for an eight-year-old building and Churchill said “absolutely” when asked if there was a chance that the province would seek redress from the builders.
“We‘ll be looking at all the options that are available to us to deal with that situation on a number of levels,” Churchill said.