School buses review causes concern

St Joseph's School board chairwoman Gigi Hollyer, with children Anthony (7) and Caitlin (9), is...
St Joseph's School board chairwoman Gigi Hollyer, with children Anthony (7) and Caitlin (9), is concerned at the financial implications for the families of Wakatipu schoolchildren faced with using commercial bus services. Photo by Tracey Roxburgh.
Some Wakatipu school principals are questioning why the Ministry of Education talked to private bus operator Connectabus about a review of school bus services two months before informing them.

Under the review, school pupils with access to a suitable public transport service and who meet certain distance criteria will no longer be eligible for school transport assistance, requiring families to pay for a commercial bus service.

Schools heard about the review at a meeting last Thursday, but Connectabus managing director Ewen McCammon told the Otago Daily Times yesterday the company had been in talks with the ministry for about two months.

The ministry's group manager of service delivery, Jerome Sheppard, said it had to approach Connectabus before telling schools about the review so it could confirm whether the company could provide a ''suitable alternative to our existing routes'' and to determine the company's future plans.

Wakatipu High School principal Steve Hall said schools were not ''jumping for joy'' about the ministry's approach to the review, including the timing of its announcement.

Mr Hall said the school would like to have been informed sooner about the proposed changes.

''The implications of this are potentially far-reaching and so for students, families, schools and the community you would want as much time as possible if this is going to happen.''

Schools were also concerned the review had been put to them as a fait accompli rather than genuine consultation.

''Probably, their interpretation is that the consultation bit is around which routes this is happening to, rather than whether it's happening or not.''

Remarkables Primary School principal Debbie Dickson said she was surprised the ministry had been talking to Connectabus for two months, as schools would face a ''massively tight squeeze'' to adapt to any changes.

Although the ministry was required to give schools a term's notice of any changes, only 16 weeks of term time remained until the new school year and it would be ''weeks'' before they knew which school bus routes would be dropped or modified.

''That doesn't leave a lot of time to change infrastructure,'' she said.

Mr Sheppard said the ministry believed 16 weeks was enough time for schools to consult their communities, ''but if it becomes apparent that more time is needed for schools to adapt, then more time will be allowed''.

St Joseph's School board chairwoman Gigi Hollyer earlier this week said she was concerned about the proposal's financial implications for pupils' families.

She also had concerns about safety and issues around bullying and having children on buses with unknown adults.

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