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Cameras considered for school buses

Mounting cameras on school buses to catch illegally passing motorists that endanger students could be a last resort for the Wolf Creek School Division.
Motorists are supposed to know it’s against the law to pass a stopped school bus, while its red lights are flashing.
In Alberta drivers that don’t come to a full stop can be fined $414, and have six demerits registered on their license.
Yet, 60 vehicles failed to stop when buses were loading or unloading Wolf Creek students in the 2013-2013 school year.
And that’s only counting the license plates bus drivers managed to jot down, said the district’s transportation manager Rick Williams.
Whether these drivers are in a fog and don’t see the bus, are unaware of the law, or simply don’t care, Williams said, “it’s a very serious problem that needs to be addressed for the sake of our children.”
The Wolf Creek School Division is starting an education campaign about school bus safety, which includes mounting magnetic sign boards along rural roads that are known to have lots of passing violations. One of these is Aspelund Road west of Blackfalds.
If this doesn’t work, Williams said his district’s school trustees will look next fall into the cost of installing bus-mounted cameras to photograph offending vehicles.
He noted several Central Alberta students have already had hair-raising incidents with motorists.
Two years ago, a tanker truck passed on the right shoulder while a school bus was stopped, with red lights flashing, to pick up a child.
“Luckily it was a left-hand pick-up,” said Williams. “If it was right-hand we would have really been in trouble.”
About three years ago in the Clearview school division, a bus driver had opened the rear door to unload students when she noticed a white Camaro racing up and about to pass on the right — where children were about to disembark.
“The driver told me if she hadn’t quickly closed the door, (the car) would have taken it off” — that’s how close the Camaro passed, said Clive Spechko, Clearview’s transportation supervisor.
School bus drivers do their best to write down license numbers. But Alberta vehicles only have a rear licence plate, said Cal McRae, assistant transportation supervisor for the Wild Rose School District. And he noted it’s difficult to see the back plate of a vehicle that’s passing from the opposite direction.
Gil Gravelle, transportation director for Chinook’s Edge, believes every time a hefty fine is levied, word travels through a community and the incident educates others.
While bus-mounted cameras would provide the police with better and more consistent evidence, the consensus is they would be expensive.
School bus safety concerns are shared by school divisions throughout Central Alberta. But most other districts would let Wolf Creek test the cameras first.
Williams said cameras would be a last resort.
His division will first see if an education campaign consisting of media advertising, road signs, and notices in community and school newsletters raises awareness of the problem.


County council pay drawing concerns

INNISFAIL — York County councillors admitted Tuesday they failed to consult taxpayers before handing themselves a 46 per cent pay hike.
“Maybe we did err by not involving the public. They didn’t know and they should always be involved,” Councillor Penny Archibald told taxpayers at a town hall meeting west of Innisfail.
In February, council unanimously voted for an annual salary of $30,000 plus about $3,500 in per diems for attending meetings. That compared with $23,000 earned previously in annual combined salary and per diems.
Councillors, who had never before discussed the raise in public, argued salaries should be high enough to attract quality candidates to run for election.
Questioned about the raise on Tuesday, Councillor Stan Bell said he received calls from taxpayers who believed council picked the salary figure “out of the air” and made a quick, arbitrary decision.
Bell said councillors had actually talked about wages for more than a year and had looked at salaries in other municipalities.
None of that information, however, was brought forward at the February council meeting or afterwards.
Bell and Archibald said their only regret is not allowing the public to respond before council voted. People could have been notified that council was considering the raise, said Bell.
Bell said he received about 12 phone calls and numerous comments about the raise — all but two in favour.
“I have a young family and I need to support them. When you ask me to take off 120 days a year (for meetings), it hurts my business.”
Daryl Kinsella, wife of Reeve Earl Kinsella, said their home has become a 24-hour-a-day office for her husband’s county-related tasks.
The issue arose when Pine Lake resident Bill Weisenburger asked whether the new pay system could have discouraged a few councillors from attending the town hall meeting at Cottonwood Gordon Ag Community Centre. Under the old system, councillors would have been paid a per diem for attending the meeting. Under the new system, they’re not paid for attending the meeting but are paid the higher overall salary.
Councillors said they didn’t believe the new system had an impact on attendance.
In response to a question about whether privatization of services has been effective, county manager Rob Coon said it will be assessed this year. Privatization has saved money. Now council wants to look at the affect on service levels.


Courting the new immigrant

Axel Griesshaber said “auf wiedersehen” to his family and left Germany last month to work at a York kitchen cabinetmaking shop.
With his snowboard and luggage in tow, the 33-year-old was ready to embark on a new life in Canada and in particular, use his specialized skills at Robco Cabinets Ltd.
Last fall, Griesshaber graduated with a university degree in wood technology. Jobs are scarce in Germany, plus Griesshaber already had in mind he wanted to work in an English-speaking foreign county.
“In my field, it is really tough,” he said of finding work at home. “When I left, there was an unemployment rate of 11 per cent.”
Griesshaber applied internationally through the Internet and Robco replied with interest.
“They called me before Christmas and then we had a telephone conference call,” he said.
He kept in touch with company management through e-mails and in late January, met with owner Rob Brunner in Switzerland. Griesshaber was interviewed and learned more about the company and York.
Griesshaber received a job offer and two weeks later, he accepted a three-year contract.
“The biggest problem was to get to Canada and then I found out about this Young Workers Exchange Program,” he said, referring to the process where young Germans can quickly come to Canada to work for one year.
Griesshaber attended an informational session in Bonn where he met with Norma Duncan, the Olds mayor and vice-chair of Central Alberta Economic Partnership, and Tina Varughese-Drebit, an investment attraction officer with Alberta Economic Development, to learn more about immigrating to Canada.
Two months later, the young man from Alpirsbach — located in the middle of the Black Forest and home to a monastery more than 900 years old — was on his way to a country many Germans dream about.
“Everybody would like to go to Canada,” he said, noting some friends would like to come for a snowboarding vacation.
His first day on the job was May 12. Part of his responsibilities as production foreman are training people on the machines.
“I also check processes to see if there is a better and faster way of doing it,” he said.
The company arranged a house for him that he shares with two others. He’s noticed one major difference here.
“In Canada, it’s hard not to have a car. But it’s only 10 minutes walk to work, so I am not in a hurry to get one.”
Griesshaber plans on sticking around through Christmas — and live through his first Canadian winter. He’s already made use of his snowboard, taking it to the mountain slopes over the Victoria Day weekend.
Robco pays for an annual trip to Germany so Griesshaber can visit his mother, his sister and her twins.
While he misses family and friends, Griesshaber believes he’s made the right decision. He’ll be able to practise his already-proficient English and to use the skills he acquired through five years of university.
Griesshaber said he’d recommend such a move to other Germans.
“I think it’s always a good experience to go to a new country,” he said.