Changes to school bus budget soon

PHILIPSBURG–Minister of Education Silveria Jacobs continues to have concerns about Government’s excessive spending on school bus transportation on an annual basis. Jacobs said school bus owners, parents and the schools will be informed in the very near future of the changes coming to the school bus transportation policy.

Jacobs tried to introduce several changes to the existing policy in March 2016, but received major criticism from the school bus association at the time. The Ministry had the task of ensuring transportation service to and from school for children who would not be able to go to school without said service. The Ministry ensures transportation for extracurricular Government-approved trips and trips to and from the pool for swimming lessons. Approximately 2,000-plus children make use of this service on a daily basis.

Due to increasing cost to the amount of NAf. 5.4 million on a yearly basis and incidents of violence on school buses, the Ministry had to re-evaluate the busing system to ensure a more effective, efficient and sustainable system for children that is also in compliance with all the relevant ordinances and policies.

Jacobs reiterated during the weekly Council of Ministers press briefing that Government is spending far too much on school bus transportation.

The Education Ministry has been working closely with the Ministry of Transportation to put a proper policy in place that would also allow Government to better spend its funds, which are already limited. Government’s Legal Affairs Department has already issued several advices about proposed changes to the policy and the way payments are made.

Jacobs said 40 buses are needed to transport children to and from school, but Government is being invoiced for 60-plus buses, which sometimes include field trips.

She said a serious assessment has to be made, as the budget for this school year has already been depleted.

Government said improvements had been approved by the Ministry in 2015 to provide a better busing service, such as public bidding in accordance with the National Accountability Ordinance to allow for fair, open and transparent awarding of service level contracts for said service, with the possibility to subcontract to current and new operators.

Video surveillance recording and control technology is in use on all school buses. The technology records all activities on the school buses. It is meant as a strong deterrent and the information gathered with the systems will prove to be extremely effective in capturing video evidence of violations, help produce valuable reports and provide data the Ministry as well as Government on the whole can utilise.

GPS System and Electronic School ID Passes will prohibit anyone other than those authorised to use the bus to have access to the bus, track the buses’ whereabouts and allow for parents and Government to track children on the buses in the interest of compulsory education.

The changes have not yet been implanted, but Government wants to implement these changes soon. Jacobs plans to sit with stakeholders and involve them before the changes take effect.

Source: The Daily Herald