Driver shortages for local school board still an issue as enrollment increases

By Kirk Winter

Finding bus drivers is still an issue for a local public board of education that keeps on growing.

Tim Ellis, superintendent responsible for transportation for the Trillium Lakelands District School Board, recently told the board that the most pronounced bus driver shortages are in Kawartha Lakes. That’s especially true in the far south with routes servicing Grandview and Rolling Hills Public Schools.

Trustee Judy Saunders wanted to know if Ellis was aware that students are still arriving to school late every day by as much as 15 minutes, losing valuable instruction time.

Trustee John Byrne, a retired school bus driver, reminded trustees that from his experience drivers needed not only driving skills but “a lot of patience.”

Alongside this issue is the fact that the official headcount of students board wide is growing, especially in Fenelon Falls, Bobcaygeon and Haliburton.

Ellis told trustees that the board estimated their elementary enrollment in September to be between 11,500 students and 11,700 students. The actual count on October 4 showed the number to be 11,611, which is 550 more than were predicted last June.

Secondary numbers in September were estimated to be 4,700. As of Oct. 4, a hard count discovered 4,664 students are attending the board’s seven secondary schools, up 100 from last June’s estimates.

Enrollment growth was up in all areas of the board with Haliburton and north Kawartha Lakes leading the pack with an increase in enrollment of seven per cent a piece, impacting class sizes, teacher hiring and bus route capacities.

I.E.Weldon and L.C.V.I. in Lindsay, Haliburton Highlands Secondary School and Huntsville High School saw their enrollments increase over projections made last spring, while Gravenhurst, Bracebridge-Muskoka Lakes and Fenelon Falls have numbers that were slightly below what was expected.

Director of Education Wes Hahn speculated in late September possible reasons for the enrollment increases.

“We believe a number of these kids are from outside the area and they have either decided to stay with grandparents or they are remaining at the family cottage as their parents are working remotely,” Hahn said.

Hahn added that he “definitely knows” that some of the elementary numbers are very late registrations for kindergarten as parents waited for the last moment to commit because of COVID-19 and what school programming might look like.

Trustee Stephen Binstock wanted to know from staff the status of students who have been withdrawn to be home schooled, a number that peaked during the height of the pandemic at 460 elementary and secondary students.

“We are expecting that number to be down to pre-pandemic levels between 180-190 students,” Hahn replied.

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