Fears 'designated character' school bus funds to end

Last updated 05:00 26/02/2013

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Waikato District and Hamilton city ratepayers could be stung with rates rises if the Ministry of Education cuts funding for school bus services in Huntly and Ngaruawahia.

The two routes are among 10 school bus services in the Waikato which the ministry is looking to cut from the start of next year.

Schools directly affected would be "designated character" schools St John's College, Sacred Heart Girls College and Waikato Diocesan School for Girls.

Waikato District Councillor Noel Smith, who chairs the roading and transportation committee, said that if the services are dumped, the cost will fall back on ratepayers.

"If they just cut it, somebody's going to have to pick it up. And it is either going to cost the parents a heck of a lot more - because the ratepayers can't continue to fund it - or the children are going to have to stay in schools in their local area, or get transported privately."

At present the Government funds 50 per cent of the school bus services, and the difference is split between rates levied from Hamilton city ratepayers by the Waikato Regional Council, and Waikato District Council.

If the Government pulls funding, the costs to continue the services at current charges could fall on the two councils.

"We cannot as ratepayers continue to do that unless we specifically target ratepayers with a targeted rate," Mr Smith said.

Ministry group manager John Clark told the Waikato Times earlier this month that a review of Waikato school bus runs last year revealed the ministry was funding bus runs alongside buses provided by the regional council.

The ministry does not provide services that run parallel with, or duplicate, local authority transport provision, he said.

But Mr Smith said current commercial services don't have the capacity to deal with additional passengers.

"The public transport service is already fully subscribed at that time of day, certainly in the morning and the late afternoon when workers are going to and from work in Hamilton. We cannot as ratepayers afford to put on another bus."

Mr Smith said the cost of putting on additional services for Ngaruawahia and Huntly would be "well over" $100,000.

The principal of Waikato Diocesan, Vicky McLennan, said her school had not had any correspondence with the ministry about the changes.

"We actually have quite a lot of students coming from Huntly. In fact we have so many that they've put on a special Dio bus at the beginning of the year for us."

She said one student had approached her with concerns.

Regional council policy and transport group manager Vaughan Payne said there will be a much clearer idea on what the impacts on particular services may be by the end of April.

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"I think it is too early to say whether any services will be withdrawn next year. The impression I got from the ministry last week, is that they were very open-minded about whether or not that would be a good idea."

- Waikato Times

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