PHILIPSBURG – Minister of Education Silveria Jacobs expressed the hope that after meeting with the St. Maarten School Bus Owners Association (SBOA) that they will better understand government’s thrust behind the school busing system re-evaluation
“It is not the intention of government to take the bread out of anybody’s mouth, but we must be very realistic. (The Ministry of) Education, Culture, Youth and Sports, while it has a vast chunk of the budget, it must be spent in a proper manner, and every taxpayer would like to know that their tax dollars/guilders are going towards the proper execution of the services that government has to pay for,” Minister Jacobs said.
SBOA, in a letter this week, expressed outrage at the reforms, and considered it a disrespectful move of government toward school bus owners, who have been providing uninterrupted service for some 40 years to school children in St. Maarten.
“Our livelihood is being threatened by the current sitting government,” read a statement by SBOA on Monday, after it learnt of the Ministry of Education’s re-evaluation of the busing system. The Association also argued that there was a financial issue that it had been trying to discuss with government since 1993 to no avail.
However, Minister Jacobs noted that the changes were necessary as a cost cutting measure. “We are held accountable as ministers for the funds that we expend, and up to now funds are being expended without any contracts and the like, which the Minister can be held accountable for,” Jacobs said.
She also challenged the Association’s contention that its livelihood is being affected by the re-valuation, suggesting that for years some bus drivers were still getting paid with less workload. “They have not received a pay raise in the longest of while, but as they continue to add busses to their fleet, they continue to make money whether the buses remained filled or not. Can we continue to maintain such a thing with no control? No,” Jacobs stated. She assured that the Association and the Ministry have agreed to the discussions held this week, and that the bus owners would be reviewing the terms of reference set out by the Ministry.
Jacobs also promised to work together with the drivers to come to an amicable solution that will be beneficial to all. She also assured that the school bus system will not be taken over by outsiders, and will be to the benefit of locals only. “One thing we were able to assure them of was that no one person or one entity or someone with deep pockets could come and propose to take over the entire thing. That is totally impossible based on the criteria we’ve set forth,” Minister Jacobs explained. “The way it is being proposed is to encourage cooperation and collaboration between the operators.”