$1100 a year? School fears bus fee hike

HUNDREDS of parents at a south-west private college will be asked to pay up to $1100 a year to bus their children to school if the state government introduces transport subsidy cuts.

Mercy Regional College principal Professor Darren Egberts yesterday warned that plans to introduce means testing to students receiving the allowance would severely disadvantage students attending college campuses at Camperdown and Noorat. 

Last week, the state government announced plans to slash funding to the school bus conveyance allowance in a bid to save $21.6 million over the next six years.

Under the current scheme, private schools in Melbourne and regional Victoria are subsidised for costs needed to transport students who live more than five kilometres away.

However, under new criteria to be introduced next year, only parents on a health care card or with the educational maintenance allowance (EMA) will be eligible for the subsidy. 

Professor Egberts said school management had serious concerns over future enrolments at the school. “We have 700 students attending the college and up to 350 students are on the conveyance allowance,” Professor Egberts said. 

New means testing for the allowance will only apply to new enrolments and does include students currently using the subsidy.

However, Professor Egberts anticipated that of 70 enrolments for 2013, all but 15 would be affected by the cuts. 

The changes are likely to have only a minimal impact on Warrnambool private schools who share the government bus system. “It’s the most significant announcement I’ve had in my principalship … we’re dreadfully concerned,” he warned. 

He said the school ran a network of 10 buses collecting students from up to a dozen towns — some as far as 65km away. “If it’s brought in, parents could be paying between $450 and $1100 … that’s half the price of Mercy College yearly tuition.” 

“The reality of the changes proposed is the further they travel the more they will have to pay.” 

Professor Egberts said the Catholic education office would spearhead a campaign in the coming weeks urging the government to reverse its decision. 

School leaders also met with Polwarth MP Terry Mulder asking he take their concerns to Parliament. 

Parents will soon be asked to write letters to Mr Mulder and Premier Ted Baillieu as the college joins a statewide lobby. 

Education Minister Martin Dixon had announced the changes in response to changing urban boundaries around Melbourne.

“While parents have the primary responsibility of transporting their children to and from school, the conveyance allowance is about providing targeted additional support to families most in need,” Mr Dixon said. 

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