Bus charge would not be 'fare'
Tuesday, 17 January 2017
THE Principal of St Ronan's Primary School has slammed mooted proposals by the Education Authority (EA) to charge primary pupils for school buses.
Kevin Donaghy has castigated the suggestion, describing it as "an additional tax on rural families."
Faced with a budgetary shortfall of £22million, the proposal has been one of a range of measures being discussed by the EA as they attempt to make budgetary efficiencies to balance their books, yet Mr Donaghy believes that this will be a retrograde step that will hit rural pupils hardest.
Mr Donaghy said: "Before I came to St Ronan's, I was a principal of a rural school, St Colman's, Annaclone, and about 90% of the pupils there got to school by bus.
“Myself and a lot of my colleagues believe that this will disproportionally effect rural families."
The Principal said that, if implemented, it would have a knock-on adverse effect of pupil attendence.
He added: "The Department of Education (DE) have a strategy about managing attendance. Now, if you start charging kids for their busses and parents can't afford it, how does that child get to school if the parent is sick or the car breaks down?
“If this has an impact on pupil attendance it will undoubtedly have a knock-on effect on pupil performance.
“A school's ethos is about putting the child at the heart of the education, and that's supposed to be the ethos of the Eduation Authority (EA) and the DE, whereas at the minute it appears to be about money."
Calling the proposals "deeply alarming" Unite's Regional Officer with responsibility for ELB drivers, Gareth Scott said: "Reports that the Education Authority is considering bringing forward charges of between £50 and £200 a child from September 2017 as a result of swingeing cuts made to their budget by the NI Executive parties are deeply alarming.
“Unite is completely opposed to this proposal which is unfair and will represent a further tax on families. The impact of a flat rate charge will be highly regressive and impact those on lowest incomes disproportionately.
“If those on benefits are excluded then the charges will fall on the just-about managing working families and will be equally objectionable. In addition, this measure will also constitute a stealth tax on rural communities who are most dependent on school transport services."
Chief Executive of the EA, Gavin Boyd said: "We have been considering every aspect of our spending and service delivery. Transport reform is a key part of our review of services.
"A range of options are being considered including whether some parents may be asked to contribute to the costs of providing school transport.
"Any proposed change to existing home to school transport policy would be subject to the education minister's approval, full public consultation and equality impact assessment."
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