Parents take on ministry over buses

Rowan Rabbidge is leading the charge against a new Ministry of Education bus route proposal....
Rowan Rabbidge is leading the charge against a new Ministry of Education bus route proposal. PHOTO: CONNOR HALEY
A group of Pleasant Point parents are gearing up to fight the Ministry of Education on what they believe to be a broken promise.

When the Pleasant Point High School was closed in 2004 the minister of education at the time, Trevor Mallard, promised that Ministry of Education- funded transport would be available for all Pleasant Point teenagers to attend their secondary school of choice in Timaru.

This was in the form of a shared entitlement zone.

Last year, a new schooling zone was implemented placing Pleasant Point into the Opihi Zone and after a route review earlier this year, Pleasant Point teens attending Timaru Boys’, Timaru Girls’ and Mountainview high schools are now set to be ineligible for all buses north and west of Timaru from February next year.

The review found that the high school pupils who lived in Pleasant Point and were attending state schools in Timaru were not attending their closest state school and therefore were not eligible for school transport assistance.

Pupils in this zone travelling to Craighead Diocesan School or Roncalli College, however, were given an exception due to them attending schools of special character.

Earlier this month a community meeting was held in Pleasant Point to discuss the impacts of the new proposal.

Meeting organiser Rowan Rabbidge said the meeting was well attended and productive.

"The turnout was good and everybody was on the same wavelength in regards to working towards reinstating the shared entitlement zone.

The group would be fighting the new proposal because of the original promise of choice and they believed no timeline had been put on that promise.

"We don’t have any public transport [in Pleasant Point].

"For families in Temuka who want to send their child to any school of choice in Timaru, they’ve got a public transport network they can use.

"They’ve got that choice as well as having a high school on their doorstep but in Pleasant Point we’re left with the chance of spare seats or it will be up to families to have to get their child to the school of their choice or send them to Opihi College.

"We’re not saying Opihi College is a bad school or nobody wants to go there but it’s about having that choice that we were promised when the high school closed back in 2004.

"At the time they said they would come out and consult with our community if there were any changes to the zone but they have pretty much now just made the changes and expect we should accept it without any consultation."

Pleasant Point residents gathered for a community meeting regarding the impact of the proposal...
Pleasant Point residents gathered for a community meeting regarding the impact of the proposal earlier this month. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
There were previous discussions about eligibility in 2013 but no decisions were formalised and the status quo continued, she said.

When the proposal is enacted the Aoraki Schools Transport Network (ASTN) has agreed it will still transport ineligible pupils as long as there are seats available.

Mrs Rabbidge said to them, the changes did not make sense.

"If you’ve got a daughter going to Craighead then the bus will come and pick her up but if your son goes to Boys’ High then he can’t get on that same bus if there isn’t a spare seat.

"They’d have to find a different way or they’re entitled to a bus to Opihi College, so the cost of the ministry doing that seem ridiculous to us.

"We just want to be able to ask some questions and have some consultation."

Ministry of Education school transport group manager James Meffan said it was primarily the responsibility of caregivers to transport their children to and from school.

"We may be able to help where distance and/or accessibility may be a barrier for students attending their closest state or state-integrated school."

There are three criteria pupils must meet in order to qualify for school transport assistance.

The pupil must attend their closest state or state-integrated school, the pupil must live more than a certain distance from the school and there must be no suitable public transport options.

Mr Meffan was sympathetic to the feelings of the Pleasant Point community but believed the original agreement in 2004 was never meant to be a permanent one.

"Government policy changes over time and the current Direct Resourcing funding agreement with the ASTN supersedes any earlier agreements.

"While caregivers have the right to choose where they enrol their children, the eligibility criteria for school transport assistance are intended to ensure the ongoing viability and integrity of local schooling networks.

"This helps to prevent inefficiencies in the network due to excess demand at some schools and surplus capacity at others."

Mrs Rabbidge said the group would be requesting a report from the Official Information Act regarding the outcome of what happened back in 2004 and then planned to seek consultation with the Ministry of Education with the goal of reinstating the shared entitlement zone.