Six schools voicing bus plan concerns

Gigi Hollyer.
Gigi Hollyer.
Six Wakatipu schools have joined forces to voice their concerns over the Ministry of Education's proposed changes to school bus services in the area.

The ministry informed school representatives of the review last week, which could take effect by year end.

Under the review, any school pupils with access to a suitable public transport service, for example, Connectabus, who lived within a pre-determined boundary - 3.2km from the school they attended in years 1 to 9 and 4.8km in years 9 and over - would no longer be eligible for the School Transport Assistance, requiring families to pay for a commercial bus service.

St Joseph's School board chairwoman Gigi Hollyer said 71 of the school's 93 families would be affected by the review and many had concerns about the implications for them.

''It's quite a radical shift from what we're used to.''

Little information had been divulged to date by the ministry and there had been ''no consultation'', Mrs Hollyer said.

''We don't feel it's been put forward as a discussion ... we can't control this.

''This has been brought upon us from on high [and] we feel like we're missing the consultation step.''

Included in the concerns were the financial implications for families, which could cost about $1000 per child per year, along with safety concerns.

Mrs Hollyer said there had been no clear information provided about whether a commercial bus would use school bus stops.

If not, it created safety issues getting children to and from schools unsupervised.

''Who's going to want their 5-year-old in that scenario?''

Further, there were issues around having children on buses with unknown adults; and what would happen on a public bus if instances of bullying occurred.

''We're going from a very safe model ... to a model that's not safe, not convenient and not fit for purpose.''

The review would also create further barriers for families in Wakatipu wanting to give their children a special character Catholic education.

''Anecdotally, as a board, it's clear that ... it's got huge implications for parents - safety, cost, accessibility.''

Ministry of Education head of infrastructure services Kim Shannon said thousands of children nationally used public bus services to get to and from school.

Safety was the priority of all bus companies whether ministry-run or not. Safety would not be compromised in any decisions the ministry made, she said.

The ministry had been talking to Wakatipu principals and others about the proposals and would continue to do so.

No final decisions had been made.