The safety of children travelling to class on dangerous roads has no bearing on funding for bus travel, Education Minister Chris Carter has told worried parents.
The statement in a letter to Maramarua School has upset parents who say that the safety of children should be the first priority - especially if they face walking to school along one of the most dangerous stretches of road in the country.
Maramarua School has been campaigning to retain its full bus service after a review found a number of children using it did not actually qualify under rules to determine who gets a free ride to class. The review meant one of the two buses was no longer required.
Parents can pay for a seat on the bus, but there are concerns some can't afford it and that the reduction in the number of buses will mean there will no longer be room for the stranded children. Board of trustees chairwoman Alexandra Armstrong wrote to Carter to ask him to stop the changes.
She was stunned to receive a reply from Carter which stated: "I acknowledge your invitation to me to visit your school to assess the situation with regard to road danger.
"Under current ministry policy, however, road danger is not a factor in determining eligibility for school transport."
Armstrong said: "I can't see why they don't think danger isn't their business. I find it really disappointing they don't think danger is an issue."
The concern for Armstrong, and principal Caroline Jacobs, is that the bus cuts will leave children forced to walk to school along a stretch of State Highway 2, known as the Unforgiving Highway for the frequency of serious crashes. More than 40 people have died on the road in the past seven years.
Armstrong said another concern was that parents would begin driving children to class, creating a new danger with lines of school traffic turning in and out of dangerously positioned school gates.
"We're going to keep fighting because we really believe in what we are fighting for. I believe it's really dangerous. I've no doubt there will be some sort of accident, should it stay as it is."
Armstrong said her frustration was not targeted at Carter but the bureaucratic system that officials were following.
However, Port Waikato MP Paul Hutchison, from National, did target Carter, stating that an accident was "a disaster waiting to happen that no one will ever forgive Chris Carter for". Hutchison said that Carter needed to maintain the current bus service until the four-lane highway was built through Maramarua, with footpaths going alongside the road.
"This is an exceptionally dangerous school," said Hutchison. He said Carter needed to recognise it should be treated as an exception to policy.
The minister was on a plane on the way back from Madrid and was unable to be contacted for comment. He has previously said in Parliament there were no cuts being made to services - simply that a review had identified children using the bus who did not qualify for the service.
His letter to the school states the criteria: children under 10 years qualify if they live further than 3.2km from the school while those 10 and over qualify at 4.8km.
In Parliament, Carter said: "Everybody would have deep sympathy for anybody who lost a child in a traffic accident.
"But the bottom line is that there has to be rules about how funding is applied and about which parents qualify. We are not taking any services away from that school. Some children do not qualify for a free ride; others do."