Provider of the service, the North East Education and Library Board has said that parents will be given alternative transport assistance in the form of a parental allowance in order for them to make their own arrangements from September.
It’s a change that will enable the Board (NEELB) to save almost £30,000 a year, a spokesperson said.
TUV leader Jim Allister has, however, complained that details of what he described as “the shock decision” by the Board were communicated to parents during the summer break on what he described as “scrappy, undated letters on unheaded paper”.
One Kells parent to receive the correspondence and whose children’s home-to-school transport will be affected by the service withdrawal told The Ballymena Times: “All parents I’ve spoken to are somewhat aggrieved. This is a very good service which lots of children and their parents rely on and we have just been told ‘that’s it, it’s gone’.
“We’re not terribly impressed by the way we have been treated. It’s a rather abrupt way of doing things that smacks of ‘we’ve made our decision now leave us alone’”
However, the parent, who did not wish to be named, decided to take action, writing to the NEELB with his family’s concerns and also contacting Jim Allister for his support.
Mr Allister has now challenged the basis of the decision in a letter to the Chief Executive of NEELB and has questioned why consideration was not given to alternative measures such as amalgamating the service to the two schools as opposed to outright removal.
In his correspondence to Board chief, Shane McCurdy, the TUV leader wrote: “This is a vital service for many families in the rural hinterland serviced by these schools. It is a service which cannot be replaced by the offering of a token payment per day to entitled parents. The service is integral to the functioning of the schools and thus its withdrawal is a direct blow to their operational success.
“I want to know why and how such a decision was made.
“If such free transport is properly considered necessary for other schools, then why not for these two schools? Parents and pupils at these schools have the same rights and expectations as those elsewhere.
“I believe this unwarranted and destructive decision must be urgently reviewed and reversed,” he said.
Fellow MLA, Robin Swann of the UUP has also called on the NEELB to have a rethink.
Mr Swann said: “In February this year, the NEELB presented the Education Minister with a viability audit of primary schools in the NEELB area. Using a number of criteria, this report was to form the basis of consultation and discussion about primary school provision.
“Now after the end of the school year and when the Assembly has risen for the summer break, limiting the ability of MLAs to scrutinise departmental decisions, the NEELB has withdrawn school transport for primary schools across the area,” said Mr Swann.
The concerned parent added: “It’s not just the Board’s decision that has annoyed us. It is the way that it has been done, with no consultation or contact with the parents – just sent out in a letter, which was addressed to the children, in the middle of the summer when it’s nearly impossible to find anyone to speak to about it.”
A spokesperson for the NEELB said: “Typically pupils may travel on Ulsterbus, Board bus or privately contracted bus services or may be offered assistance in the form of an allowance to make their own arrangements, and it is a matter for the Board to determine the most cost-effective method of providing transport assistance to those who are entitled to it.
“As a result of the annual review of the Board Bus services it was identified that the transport requirements to Kells and Connor Primary School and Carnaghts Primary School could be provided on a more cost effective basis. In both cases a 16-seater bus was being utilised to transport six eligible and two concessionary pupils into Kells and Connor Primary School and four eligible and three concessionary pupils into Carnaghts Primary School.
“Instead of bus provision, the Transport Manager decided to offer parents alternative transport assistance in the form of a parental allowance in order for them to make their own arrangements from September 2012. This change to provision has enabled an annual saving of £29,801 to be made contributing to the overall savings required by the Department of Education in transport costs.
“Letters were issued informing the Principals and the parents of the decision at the start of July, giving parents a minimum of six weeks to make their own alternative arrangements”.
The spokesperson added that as a result of an administrative error the letters were sent out on plain paper rather than on NEELB headed paper.
“We have apologised in writing to parents and to the schools that they received the correspondence in this way and have begun an internal investigation to ensure that it does not happen again. Senior officers within the NEELB are currently reviewing the decision made in relation to this situation,” said the spokesperson, adding: “NEELB staff are available to address the issues and concerns that parents have and can be contacted 028 2566 2307”.
This Article came from a Public RSS Feed via Google search and is provided here for context. Copyright remains with the original author at all times. Original Article:http://www.ballymenatimes.com/news/local/parents-angry-after-school-transport-is-dropped-1-4114711