Out of zone students may miss the bus

By Katie Holland

There will be no room on the bus for many Rotorua students when they go back to school this week.

Ritchies, who operate the school bus services in Rotorua, used to let students pay to catch a bus to or near to their school if they were not eligible for a free ride under the Ministry of Education's school transport assistance policy - that is, they did not attend their nearest appropriate school. But at the end of last year students attending out of zone schools received a letter from Ritchies saying there would not be room for them in 2013.

Ngahuia Hubbard's 10-year-old son James attends Owhata Primary School, not the closest primary to their Tikitere home. Mrs Hubbard and her husband moved him to Owhata as they believed it would better meet his needs. She said last year they paid $1600 for him to catch the bus, which they were happy to do.

Mrs Hubbard contacted the Ministry of Education and she was told it was up to Ritchies whether they chose to carry non-eligible students. So she called Ritchies and was told more eligible students were expected this year, including many going to John Paul College and St Mary's school - both special character schools. For parents wanting their child to attend a special character school - a Catholic school for example - the nearest "appropriate" school is not just the nearest school but the nearest Catholic school.

Mrs Hubbard said her son had been doing well at Owhata so she would not pull him out, but would have difficulties dropping him off and picking him up around running her own business.

Michaela Hendra is meant to be starting Year 10 at Western Heights High School this week, but that's now in doubt as her mother Suzanne is unable to get her to and from school every day from Upper Atiamuri - about 36km from town.

"She [Michaela] is absolutely devastated - crying, upset and stressing," Ms Hendra said.

"It's a nightmare."

Ms Hendra said she had wanted Michaela to attend a co-ed college so had chosen Western Heights High School despite it being out of zone because she was assured her daughter could get the Ritchies bus to John Paul College, then travel the rest of the way in a school van. Many other students at the school were in the same position, she said.

She said Michaela was doing well at school so she hoped a solution could be found, but admitted time was running out.

Ms Hendra said she believed co-ed schools should be treated as having special character in the same way religious schools were.

Ritchies Rotorua manager Breta Hatu said their contract with the ministry was to transport eligible students and they were not obliged to take children whose parents sent them out of zone. "If we take out of zone children we end up with overloaded buses and could lose our contract," she said.

Rotorua MP Todd McClay said he had been contacted by a small number of parents about the change. He had spoken with Ritchies and the Associate Minister of Education Craig Foss and was awaiting further information from the ministry.

Mr McClay said he was in favour of parental choice over which schools their children attended but in this case it was a logistical issue.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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