Lithgow City Council has resolved to ask Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance to reconsider his response to concerns raised regarding the state’s School Student Transport Scheme (SSTS), particularly the effect it may have on student numbers in small schools in the Lithgow district.
The subsidy scheme aims to give students who do not live close to their school free travel. However, students living close by, within 2km, are not eligible. If parents wish to send these children by bus, they must pay the bus fare to and from school.
Councillors were concerned parents would be making the decision to send their child to a school farther away from home due to financial pressures.
In her original motion asking council to bring this matter to the attention of Mr Constance in June, Cr Cassandra Coleman said she believed that the scheme needed to be reviewed in regional and remote areas.
However, Cr Coleman said she was disgusted with the “stock-standard answer” that the minister provided.
“We’ve got primary school students whose parents were making a decision about where they send their children to school in regards to whether they can afford to get their children to school,” Cr Coleman said.
“It's an absolute disgrace, I am not accepting this.”
In his answer, Mr Constance said he was advised there were “no plans to change the SSTS eligibility requirements to include all primary school children”.
He stated the requirements had been set under long standing policy and students ineligible for the SSTS could appeal Transport for NSW’s decision by making an application to the SSTS appeals panel “if they feel there are mitigating circumstances such as safety or hardship”.
Cr Coleman said it should not be a matter of parents having to appeal.
Cr Ring, in supporting Cr Coleman’s motion to write to Mr Constance MP and request that he reconsider his response, said vulnerable families had to be considered.
“We have families that are at risk and children at risk that have to cross major highways, that live within the two kilometres, who are not being supported,” he said.
“Requests for consideration are being ignored, delayed, and we need to get those children supported.”
Cr Wayne McAndrew said the problem was being felt by small schools in the region. He said he had received an email from a teacher at Portland stating, the way the current scheme was set out, it encouraged people to send their children out of town, because parents effectively “get paid to send them”. He said the correspondence indicated it was having a major effect on Portland’s Catholic primary school.
A failure to review the policy would have serious “unintended consequences”, Cr Stephen Lesslie said at the meeting.
“The unintended consequence is that students who live closer to their school are the ones who will be forced, because of family circumstances and family financial pressures, to go to a school that is in another town, in another suburb, in another area,” Cr Lesslie said.
“The schools themselves are suffering and smaller communities are suffering.”
Lithgow City Council voted in favour of the amended motion put by Cr Coleman to write to Mr Constance and request he reconsider his response.