‘Archaic’ school bus policy costing Kaiti

‘Why can’t there just be a free bus service to get all the students to school?’

‘Why can’t there just be a free bus service to get all the students to school?’

MISSING THE BUS:To be eligible for a free bus ride to school, students must be living outside a 4.8km radius of their school. In Gisborne, the cut-off is at Wainui store. Picture by Liam Clayton

Government legislation that excludes Kaiti students from a free bus ride to school has been described as “archaic”. The Ministry of Education only provides funding for free bus travel for high school students who live outside a 4.8-kilometre radius of their chosen school.

Gisborne is one of the only cities in New Zealand where all four secondary schools are located on one side of the city, which means suburbs like Kaiti and Tamarau are among the furthest away, but narrowly miss out on free buses because the cut-off is at Wainui store. Kaiti and Tamarau are also ranked among the most economically deprived in New Zealand, and high school students who live there have to pay $1 each way to catch the school bus.

A Kaiti mum of three said this worked out to $400 a year. For families who have two or more children at high school, this quickly added up. The price is seen as a barrier for some students to attend school.

Gisborne Boys’ High School (GBHS) assistant principal Fraser Grout said the Government legislation was “archaic”.

“Why can’t there just be a free bus service to get all the students to school? Everybody has to follow the rules but the Kaiti students are getting the sticky end of the wicket on this one.”

Hikoi, trial successful

To highlight the issue, Gisborne Girls’ High School students organised a hikoi in 2011. It was attended by more than 700 students and supporters. A social sector trial was then held to improve the school bus services, and reduce the financial barrier to getting to school from Kaiti.

GGHS reported a 30 percent increase in student attendance during the trial. As a result, Gisborne District Council approved funding for the Kaiti School Bus Initiative for the 2015 school year. It provided funds for 50 percent of around 700 high school students who lived in Kaiti to travel for free on the school bus.

Schools decide how funds are distributed

Gisborne District Council recently approved $40,000 a year to carry on this initiative for 2017 and 2018. The scheme means schools can give out concession tickets to half of their students who live in those areas. GDC is invoiced for that cost.

The tickets are in the second week of use at GGHS and are expected to be available at Lytton, Boys’ High and Campion within the next two weeks. Criteria for who is selected is up to the school.

GGHS distributes free bus tickets to students who have an attendance rate of 90 percent or more. Deputy principal Bindy Hannah said it was fantastic that the criteria was incentive-based.

“We found that (having to pay for the bus) was definitely a barrier, especially in winter. Students turned up soaking wet, late and didn’t engage in learning, or did not come to school at all.”

Administration difficult

Mr Grout said it removed a major obstacle for boys getting to school but the administration of the initiative was “difficult”.

“Well done GGHS for getting the ball rolling many years ago and Janic Slupksi at the council for being proactive. But the reality is it has added a workload to people who are already busy. Once we have obtained the tickets, GBHS will be providing free tickets to the Kaiti bus boys until the tickets run out, which will, unfortunately, be before the end of the year."

A GDC spokesman said the scheme could not pay for everyone to access a free bus from Kaiti.

“It is there to support the students who need that service the most and is up to the school’s discretion. This initiative was targeted at secondary school students who live in Kaiti because they live the furthest away from high schools, and some struggle to pay for the bus to get to school.”

Lytton High School deputy principal Marama Henwood said factors considered as to who would receive the concession tickets were distance to school, financial circumstances, the number of family members catching the bus and maintaining an acceptable attendance level.

“Parents of Kaiti bus students should expect to receive a letter in the coming week outlining this process. A main focus is to ensure we can eliminate the barriers that any of our students face in getting to school. There is a direct correlation between attendance and achievement so it is important we work alongside our whanau to support their children’s academic success,” she said.

Govt policy creates unequal access

The GDC report on the initiative outlined that in many cases the bus was the only available transport option and helped students get to school dry and on time. It also stated the Government policy created unequal access to bus transport.

“Students living in Wainui and beyond are eligible and receive the MoE free service; students living in Kaiti and Tamarau do not. Walking to school can take up to an hour and is subject to weather conditions. Affordability and safety are limitations on cycling, and relying on other family members to drive students to school can also be problematic.”

Government legislation that excludes Kaiti students from a free bus ride to school has been described as “archaic”. The Ministry of Education only provides funding for free bus travel for high school students who live outside a 4.8-kilometre radius of their chosen school.

Gisborne is one of the only cities in New Zealand where all four secondary schools are located on one side of the city, which means suburbs like Kaiti and Tamarau are among the furthest away, but narrowly miss out on free buses because the cut-off is at Wainui store. Kaiti and Tamarau are also ranked among the most economically deprived in New Zealand, and high school students who live there have to pay $1 each way to catch the school bus.

A Kaiti mum of three said this worked out to $400 a year. For families who have two or more children at high school, this quickly added up. The price is seen as a barrier for some students to attend school.

Gisborne Boys’ High School (GBHS) assistant principal Fraser Grout said the Government legislation was “archaic”.

“Why can’t there just be a free bus service to get all the students to school? Everybody has to follow the rules but the Kaiti students are getting the sticky end of the wicket on this one.”

Hikoi, trial successful

To highlight the issue, Gisborne Girls’ High School students organised a hikoi in 2011. It was attended by more than 700 students and supporters. A social sector trial was then held to improve the school bus services, and reduce the financial barrier to getting to school from Kaiti.

GGHS reported a 30 percent increase in student attendance during the trial. As a result, Gisborne District Council approved funding for the Kaiti School Bus Initiative for the 2015 school year. It provided funds for 50 percent of around 700 high school students who lived in Kaiti to travel for free on the school bus.

Schools decide how funds are distributed

Gisborne District Council recently approved $40,000 a year to carry on this initiative for 2017 and 2018. The scheme means schools can give out concession tickets to half of their students who live in those areas. GDC is invoiced for that cost.

The tickets are in the second week of use at GGHS and are expected to be available at Lytton, Boys’ High and Campion within the next two weeks. Criteria for who is selected is up to the school.

GGHS distributes free bus tickets to students who have an attendance rate of 90 percent or more. Deputy principal Bindy Hannah said it was fantastic that the criteria was incentive-based.

“We found that (having to pay for the bus) was definitely a barrier, especially in winter. Students turned up soaking wet, late and didn’t engage in learning, or did not come to school at all.”

Administration difficult

Mr Grout said it removed a major obstacle for boys getting to school but the administration of the initiative was “difficult”.

“Well done GGHS for getting the ball rolling many years ago and Janic Slupksi at the council for being proactive. But the reality is it has added a workload to people who are already busy. Once we have obtained the tickets, GBHS will be providing free tickets to the Kaiti bus boys until the tickets run out, which will, unfortunately, be before the end of the year."

A GDC spokesman said the scheme could not pay for everyone to access a free bus from Kaiti.

“It is there to support the students who need that service the most and is up to the school’s discretion. This initiative was targeted at secondary school students who live in Kaiti because they live the furthest away from high schools, and some struggle to pay for the bus to get to school.”

Lytton High School deputy principal Marama Henwood said factors considered as to who would receive the concession tickets were distance to school, financial circumstances, the number of family members catching the bus and maintaining an acceptable attendance level.

“Parents of Kaiti bus students should expect to receive a letter in the coming week outlining this process. A main focus is to ensure we can eliminate the barriers that any of our students face in getting to school. There is a direct correlation between attendance and achievement so it is important we work alongside our whanau to support their children’s academic success,” she said.

Govt policy creates unequal access

The GDC report on the initiative outlined that in many cases the bus was the only available transport option and helped students get to school dry and on time. It also stated the Government policy created unequal access to bus transport.

“Students living in Wainui and beyond are eligible and receive the MoE free service; students living in Kaiti and Tamarau do not. Walking to school can take up to an hour and is subject to weather conditions. Affordability and safety are limitations on cycling, and relying on other family members to drive students to school can also be problematic.”

Ministry of Education head of education infrastructure service Kim Shannon says school transport is targeted where the greatest barriers of distance apply and where there are no other options for students to get to school.

“Therefore our assistance is provided to students who live a long distance from their closest school and where there is no public transport available. Those rules are applied consistently and fairly nationwide. We spend more than $190m every year on school transport."

Ms Shannon said they had an obligation to treat everyone fairly.

“Funding a child who is not entitled may mean those who are can be prevented from travelling because a bus may be overcrowded. Students are eligible for school transport if they don’t have access to public transport and distance makes it hard for them to get to the closest school at which they can enrol.

“We make sure this is applied consistently throughout the country, so those who really need it are the ones who get it. This includes Ministry-run buses in Gisborne and we do not charge eligible students to travel on Ministry-run buses."

Ms Shannon said it was important to note that the MoE did not provide services in the urban centres of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and Tauranga because those areas had effective public transport networks in place.

“Gisborne and surrounds is in a similar situation. The vast majority of children in New Zealand — about 600,000 — get to school by either walking, cycling, public transport or by being dropped off by car."

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D Fouhy - 2 years ago
When I was a school boy in Gisborne in the 1960s I walked to school every day! Uphill both ways! Also when it was winter, as I had no shoes, I would stop in a paddock.

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