Parents, schools upset by bus cuts

A shake-up of school bus services in the greater Waikouaiti coastal area has left some parents and Dunedin principals feeling they are being discriminated against by the Ministry of Education.

A ministry survey conducted recently showed fewer pupils eligible for subsidised school transport services between Dunedin, Seacliff, Warrington and Waitati, so the two subsidised bus routes were combined into one this year.

Passenger Transport Citibus, contracted to operate the ministry-funded services, decided to retain the defunct route as a commercial operation.

Otago Boys' High School rector Clive Rennie said the contracted bus service only went to Logan Park High School because it was the nearest secondary school.

John McGlashan College, Columba College, St Hilda's Collegiate School and Kavanagh College pupils also got to use the service because it was included under the schools integration agreement for pupils who elected to go to a school of special character.

However, pupils attending Otago Boys' High School, Otago Girls' High School, Dunedin North Intermediate or Balmacewen Intermediate were not eligible for the subsidy.

Mr Rennie said he was upset because it appeared that parents who had chosen a single sex school or intermediate were being discriminated against.

''My boys have elected to go to Otago Boys' High School. Why are they being penalised? We're being discriminated against.

''I think everybody should pay or everybody should be free.

''There are inconsistencies in the Ministry of Education's policy and the parents of my pupils seem to be on the wrong end of those decisions.''

Otago Girls' High School principal Linda Miller said it appeared parents choosing single sex state education for their children were not receiving the same benefits as other parents who chose integrated schools.

Mrs Miller said given recent Government policy, which allowed the establishment of charter schools, increases in integrated school rolls and the financial bailing out of private schools, she believed the bus system was another step towards privatisation of state schools.

''It makes me feel fearful for the state of our world class education system.''

A Warrington resident, who declined to be named, described the changes as ''grossly unfair''.

She said about 23 parents in the area attended a meeting in Warrington last week to discuss the issue, and many said they were now driving their children to school.

A Go card fare of $5 each way, or a cash fare of $5.50 each way was charged for pupils not eligible for free bus transport, she said.

Waikouaiti-Coast Community Board chairman Gerard Collings said he had written a letter of protest to the ministry, stating children going to other schools in Dunedin were not even getting free transport to Logan Park High School before travelling on to other schools.

A ministry spokesman said there used to be a ministry service over Mt Cargill from Waitati to Dunedin, and one over the motorway from Seacliff.

The motorway route was also serviced by suitable public transport so the route was withdrawn. He said individual pupils were assessed for ministry-funded services based on circumstances such as age, distance from closest school and lack of suitable public services.

''There is enough capacity on the redesigned service from Seacliff via Mt Cargill to Dunedin to accommodate all the eligible students in the area,'' he said.

-john.lewis@odt.co.nz

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