Changes to legislation governing the provision of school bus transport facilities could leave families hundreds of euros out of pocket when the summer holiday season comes to an end, angry parents have warned.
Under the previous Primary School Transport Scheme (STS), pupils could avail of free transport provided they lived 3.2 kilometres or more from their nearest school.
But in conditions laid out in the last budget announced by the previous Fianna Fail/Green Party administration, a loophole known more commonly as the Closed School Rule (CSR) was abolished, meaning children could no longer obtain free transport irrespective of how close they lived to their nearest school.
Faced with those changes and the prospect of running up costly transportation bills from next September, this week a number of irate parents had their say.
Mother of four, Pauline Leonard, said her bill could rise to €200 once government cutbacks and her children return to St Columba’s National School later this year.
“I live over the three kilometres from the school so I don’t know what is going to happen,” she said. “It’s all very vague. It’s supposed to be €50 per child but we don’t really know what the cost will be.”
Whatever her decision come September, Ms Leonard said she was one of the “luckier ones”, insisting she could perhaps cycle alongside her children to school.
Others, she confessed, would not have that luxury, before again hitting out at the lack of correspondence that has been handed down to parents since news of the imminent changes became public knowledge last month.
Like, Ms Leonard, fellow parent Aisling Hanlon has still to work out a feasible solution for when her six-year-old daughter, Leah returns to St Columbas in around eight weeks’ time.
“I work in Longford so it is going to be difficult to know what to do,” she explained to the Leader earlier this week. “Leah is in the junior room at the moment but when she goes into first class she will lose the bus. Before that, she was getting the bus over and back.”
Launching a broadside at the controversial changes and the reluctance of the incumbent Fine Gael/Labour coalition to row back on the proposals, Ms Hanlon said the plan made no sense whatsoever.
“It’s such a small community and a small school, what’s next?” she asked. “It is very disappointing. We are in the middle of nowhere, we need the bus.”
Local politicians have also been quick to question the validity of the changes. North Longford Cllr PJ Reilly said the move was another “attack on rural Ireland”, warning the move could push families deeper into the financial mire.
“There are 12 families involved and 18 children affected by this. There was a committment given in the 1970s when the department closed Clooneen National School that transport would be available at all times. This is a very rural school in a rural village and it just doesn’t seem fair,” he said.
Cllr Reilly also put down a motion at a Longford County Council recently asking for the local authority to write to Minister of State Ciaran Cannon, outlining the concerns of parents and members of the Mullinalaghta community.
It has since emerged however that department officials may have sanctioned a dramatic u-turn on the proposed changes affecting St Columba’s NS. Cllr Reilly said on Monday parents had in fact been notified of the decision in recent days. Despite this no official statement from the Department of Education clarifying the matter was available at the time of going to press yesterday (Tuesday).