MP Francisco Lacroes Advises Caution to Education Minister on School Bus Operator SLA | SMN NEWS

PHILIPSBURG:—  Member of Parliament Francisco Lacroes has voiced significant concerns over the recent directives issued by Minister of Education Lyndon Lewis regarding St. Maarten's school bus operators. In a letter dated June 12, 2024, Minister Lewis mandated that school bus operators sign a Service Level Agreement (SLA) by June 28, 2024.
The letter, inviting school bus operators to a meeting on June 15, 2024, from 9:00 to 10:30 a.m. at the Government Administration Buildings Meeting Rooms 1 and 2, sets out three critical topics for discussion: the service level agreement, the implementation of a fleet management system, and addressing inappropriate behaviour by school bus drivers.
However, the blanket allegation of inappropriate behavior has irked seasoned School Bus Operators, who say the Minister should address his concern directly to whichever individual is accused and not make it appear as if this is the general practice of School Bus Operators. Minister Lewis's insistence on moving forward with the SLA by June 28 and the threat of a public bid have also drawn sharp criticism from the school bus operators and MP Lacroes.
MP Lacroes advises Minister Lewis to tread carefully, urging him to pay special attention to the procedures used in the past when handling the SLA for school bus drivers. According to Lacroes, the previous process was flawed and not properly followed, leading to significant challenges that still need to be addressed.
Lacroes emphasized giving sufficient time for dialogue with the school bus operators rather than rushing the process. He insists Minister Lewis should not be too quick to sign off on the SLA, as it contains issues requiring careful consideration and resolution. "These men and women have dedicated their lives to ensuring our children get to school safely daily," said Lacroes. "To threaten their livelihood without proper dialogue is disrespectful and unjust."
MP Lacroes highlighted that the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transportation & Telecommunication (TEATT) oversees bus inspections and has received numerous complaints about payment irregularities and the constant threat of public bids from disgruntled School Bus Operators. "School bus operators have faced withheld payments for work completed on specific routes, and the looming threat of a public bid only adds to their distress," Lacroes added.
MP Lacroes urged Minister Lewis to engage in meaningful discussions with the school bus operators and to develop a workable agreement that addresses their grievances. He pointed to past efforts by TEATT to ensure safety and accountability through proposed camera installations on school buses, a measure intended to protect children and operators.
"Instead of making unfounded allegations, we should focus on solutions that ensure the safety and well-being of our children while respecting the service and dedication of our school bus operators," Lacroes stated. "This includes listening to their grievances and working collaboratively to improve the system."
In his heartfelt plea, MP Lacroes called Minister Lewis to reconsider his approach and ensure that the process respects the long-standing dedication of the school bus operators. "We must not forget the decades of dedicated service these operators have provided. They deserve our respect and fair treatment, not threats and unwarranted accusations," Lacroes concluded.
As the meeting date approaches, all eyes will be on the outcome and whether Minister Lewis will heed the call for a more thoughtful and respectful approach towards St. Maarten's school bus operators.

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