Opihi defends schoolbus zoning push

JOANNE BENNETT
Last updated 05:00 29/11/2013

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Opihi College has responded to criticism that it has chosen to enforce its Transport Entitlement Zone (TEZ), excluding other schools from offering free buses for Pleasant Point students, because of a declining roll.

The board of trustees said it had a strong desire to be the school of choice for the district.

"The issue for the board of trustees was a question of fairness around the implementation of TEZs as applied to other schools" throughout the country.

The board said the school has experienced "significant roll growth" this year, and the appointment of principal Mike Wright has "seen changes in the culture of the school and the community perception about the college".

Opihi's roll in 2009 was 376. It was 293 students this year, down five students on 2012. Howerver this was up significantly on the Ministry of Education's predictions of 263 students.

There are 14 eligible students who bus from Pleasant Point to Opihi College, and up to 48 who travel from Pleasant Point to Geraldine High School. If Pleasant Point pupils need to catch a free bus to school, they will have to go to Opihi College from 2015.

Geraldine High School transport bus controller Mark Hayward has vowed to "fight the decision resolutely". "I have no doubt that Opihi's motivation is all about lifting their school profile and increasing their roll, and I wish them every success.

"It would be fantastic if they can be seen as first choice for parents in the Point area. The choice concept is particularly important in this context though.

"Opihi are counteracting their own objectives by creating a situation where rather than choose for positive reasons, many families will be forced into attending," he said.

Opihi's board undertook a review of the school in 2012, including seeking clarification around the school's TEZ. The board found there was an agreement with other schools in 2004, but the question was raised whether the agreement still stood. A letter from 2004 from the ministry to Opihi states the opportunity to revise the zone does exist.

Opihi and the ministry found the 2004 agreement was temporary, but other schools who have buses going to the area disagree.

The statement by the ministry's head of education infrastructure service, Kim Shannon, that the agreement was only ever meant to be temporary is incorrect, Mr Hayward said.

"I don't believe there is anything in writing from 2004 to back up this assertion.

"For us, this issue is about two things. The first is parental choice, as promised by the minister and acknowledged by the Ministry of Education back in 2004. Second, the ministry honouring that agreement and thereby continuing to show respect to the Pleasant Point community by affirming it."

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- The Timaru Herald

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