Parents criticise Minister for change to school transport


A GROUP of parents who hosted a public meeting in Listowel, Co Kerry, about changes to the school transport system yesterday expressed their anger at the attitude of Minister of State at the Department of Education Ciarán Cannon.

Mr Cannon, who had attended the meeting, has refused to row back on the proposals for the service brought in by the previous government.

A series of meetings around the country is now planned, with the first to take place in Galway on July 11th, a spokeswoman for a group of primary school parents said yesterday. At the public meeting in Listowel on Monday night, attended by 400 parents drawn from west Waterford, west Cork, south Kerry, and Limerick, the Minister said he could not row back on the proposals. He said the cost of the school transport system amounted to €180 million, or €1 million per school day.

Bus Éireann runs the school transport system on behalf of the Department of Education, using local contractors mainly.

The changes on foot of the last budget include a €50 charge per primary school child, up to a maximum of €110 per family. The cost for secondary school children will rise to a maximum of €650 per family.

The Government plans to cut 150 routes, saving €3.5 million on an annual bill of €180 million.

Of most concern are the changes to the so-called “closed” or central school rule, dating from the 1970s, which ensured primary children from amalgamated schools were eligible for free transport to their new school even when living not less than one mile from their new school.

That entitlement is now removed. From the start of the 2011/2012 school year, the distance criteria of 3.2km (two miles) will be applied nationally. In addition, the minimum number of pupils before a school bus service is provided will be 10, not seven.

Parents and teachers say this will decimate schools and create traffic hazards. Methods other than the “centralised Bus Éireann” service should be explored. The Minister urged parents to “pool resources” and return to the days when clubbing together was common practice.

However, parents have rejected Mr Cannon’s refusal to row back and have said he needed to think outside the box. “He did not listen to what parents said. The trouble is that with the new minimum requirements, some buses will not be running,” said Rachel Fitzgerald, a parent of two attending Ardfert Central School in Co Kerry. Her children walk to school but the new provisions mean removal of a bus and she is worried about more traffic: “The department is not looking at the long-term costs – some parents will have to give up work.”