'Breathing space' on school buses

Wakatipu schools are celebrating a Ministry of Education ''backdown'' over government-funded bus services.

Early last week, the Otago Daily Times revealed the ministry was reviewing the provision of school buses in the area.

School representatives who attended a meeting two weeks ago said the ministry told them services would be cut from the beginning of next year, leaving children to rely on public transport; the only decision left to make was which routes were used.

The announcement sparked an outcry from the community and, on Monday, ministry education infrastructure service group manager Jerome Sheppard emailed schools to say the bus system would remain fundamentally unchanged at the start of the 2015 school year.

''As to the substantive change proposal of transitioning students to public transport, no change will occur until suitable consultation and engagement has taken place and a final decision has been made,'' the email said.

''We do need to work through the future of school transport across the Wakatipu area given the current provision of public transport in the region.

"As a result, we will be working with affected schools over the coming months on potential options.''

St Joseph's School board chairwoman Gigi Hollyer, of Queenstown, said school principals and boards of trustees were told of the ministry's backdown during a conference call on Monday afternoon.

''We're just all happy that we've now got a bit of breathing space.''

Remarkables Primary School board chairwoman Fiona Woodham said the schools had galvanised and worked to lobby senior ministry staff and had taken it to ''a ministerial level''.

The turnaround was surprising but welcome, she said.

''Things will happen eventually - they seem determined to go down this track, but if we can have all of those discussions ... the community will feel they've been listened to and some better solutions will come out of it.''

Wakatipu High School principal Steve Hall said while it was clear the ministry still intended to make changes, he was pleased the community would be able to have some input in the decision-making process.

''Now there will be a chance to consult with our communities, to understand what it means, who it will affect ... and have a say.

''I think we're all really pleased that there's going to be some more time and some more process in this.''

- Tracey Roxburgh & David Williams


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