By Lauren Owens
Parents of rural Otumoetai Intermediate School students are angry that they have been told to pay $1800 a year for their child to catch a bus to school.
Last Friday, 45 families received a letter from Otumoetai Intermediate explaining that the buses were too crowded, with too many children using them.
As those families lived further than 4.8km away from the school they would be required to pay $450 per term to fund a special bus for their children.
Te Puna's Louise Balfour, a single mum to her daughter, Julia, 11, said the financial request was out of their reach.
"We were told that it was $75 [a year] for the buses ... we made a conscious choice based on that to go to the school. It's a great school," she said.
"Julia just loves the school though. She was absolutely buzzing after her first week there. It's such a good school and then she can just move on to the college next door."
Other parents of the affected children, who did not want to be named, were outraged that this was sprung on them so suddenly. The changes were to take place at the beginning of this week, with the letter brought home from school on Friday.
They also said that they had asked about the bus system before enrolling their child at the intermediate and were advised that it was not an issue and no changes were foreseen.
"It's not just the lives of the kids it's affecting, it's going right down the line," one mother commented. She said the amount they were asked to pay was excessive for the 15km of travel a day.
"To pay that amount, it would have to be a golden bus."
Otumoetai Intermediate advised in its letter that an alternative was the arrangement of car-pooling - a suggestion rejected by the parents the Bay of Plenty Times spoke to.
"You don't know what kind of person is driving the car ... we just want our kids to get to school safely," one said.
Currently, 45 families already paid the $75 annual fee for the children to catch a bus to school.
The bus picked up the children from Clarke Rd in Te Puna to bring them into school and then dropped them at the Bethlehem shops in the afternoon.
But Henk Popping, Otumoetai Intermediate School principal, said the $450 figure was no longer an option.
"The cost [given to parents] is a quote that we received from a bus company. We have since gone elsewhere to get further options.
"What we're looking at now is a long-term solution," he said.
Mr Popping said the notice sent to parents advising of the immediate changes was because the school was not previously aware of the extent of the problem.
"The current systems have been able to accommodate it. We have more people moving out to Te Puna and college kids use the buses as well as other schools.
"We were unaware that it was such a problem and temporary measures were put into place."
Mr Popping said that they would be holding a meeting for the affected families at Otumoetai Intermediate School this evening at 7pm to discuss the possible options of buying or leasing a bus.
By Lauren Owens