After scathing report, school board chair says bus service is safe
'As of right now, student safety is OK,' says Halifax school board chair Gin Yee
The chair of the Halifax Regional School Board says he's concerned by a report that's highly critical of the company that provides bus service for the board, but he thinks Stock Transportation's service is safe.
"The report is concerning overall, but if there were major concerns about student safety, my assumption is the UARB [Utility and Review Board] would have pulled the licence," said Gin Yee.
The board stopped just short of that in a ruling made public Tuesday that found Stock guilty of eight charges levied against it by provincial inspectors, including:
- Operating a charter service without a licence.
- Resisting or willfully obstructing inspectors.
- Demanding drivers work beyond the driving hours permitted.
- Falsifying records.
Besides the Halifax school board, Stock provides school bus transportation for the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board and the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial.
'A logistical nightmare'
The ruling did not apply to the school boards, but Stock has until the end of the month to file a plan with the regulator outlining how it plans to fix the many deficiencies outlined in its ruling.
Yee said although he felt blindsided by the ruling, he feels confident Stock is fulfilling its obligations to the Halifax school board, as outlined in the $16-million-a-year contract that runs until 2025.
"As of right now, student safety is OK," said Yee.
Yee said board officials already had a meeting scheduled for January 2017 with Stock. He said UARB's findings will be discussed with Stock.
Yee said if UARB pulled Stock's licence, the Halifax school board would be able to arrange bus service, but conceded it would be challenging.
"It would be a logistical nightmare if we moved on from Stock," said Yee, who noted that having another company provide the service or doing it in house would both be options.
The report also noted the regional manager at Stock, Troy Phinney, treated Halifax school board officials to a trip from Halifax to his cottage in Murray Corner, N.B., in July 2016. Staffers were treated to a lobster supper at the end of the day.
Yee said it was the first he had heard of the trip.
"My understanding is that they went to the cottage, they had meetings, they had a team-building session, then they had dinner and they went back home," he said.
"That's all I know about it."
Yee said there's no policy prohibiting staff from accepting the daylong excursion, but he admitted it "may be" a conflict.
Stock confirmed to CBC News Thursday evening that Phinney no longer works for the company and hasn't "for several months."
In an emailed statement to CBC News, chief operating officer Terri Lowe said Phinney's actions described in the report "were not fully known to our management team."
Lowe said what happened appears to have been an isolated incident with "a manager with complete disregard for company procedures and operating regulations."
The company said safety remains its top priority and it won't tolerate employees who act contrary to that.
"We have already taken steps to address some of the issues identified in the report and will continue to work with the UARB to address every issue," said Lowe.
"For several months, we have had a new senior leadership team in place in Nova Scotia. We are fully and appropriately licensed to operate in Nova Scotia."
AVRSB, CSAP respond
The Annapolis Valley Regional School Board said so far its staff have not fielded any concerns about safety from parents or guardians.
School board spokesperson Kristen Loyst said the board is not aware of any instances where its staff or officials received invitations or incentives from Phinney.
In an email to CBC News, Conseil scolaire acadien provincial said it did not have any concerns with its contract with Stock. Spokesperson said Stéphanie Comeau said student safety is the primary focus, adding drivers "have all passed requirements and checks."
CSAP said it had not received any complaints from parents, and no officials or staff were given any invitations or incentives from Phinney.
Was the policy breached?
Yee said he'd need more time to review the situation to determine whether the trip to New Brunswick violated Halifax Regional School Board policy.
The HRSB Purchasing Policy and Handbook, approved in 2012, states: "Employees and governing board members cannot accept any items, contributions, donations or money — directly or indirectly, from any person, company, firm or corporation in which any purchase order or contract is or might be awarded, except where the items offer moderate hospitality during the normal course of business and would not exceed what the board would likely provide in return, and would not be perceived by others as influencing a business decision."