Minister of Education Silveria Jacobs. (File photo)
PHILIPSBURG–“Our livelihood is being threatened by the current sitting Government,” read a statement by St. Maarten School Bus Owner’s Association (SBOA) on Monday after it received word about the changes made by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports re-evaluation of the current busing system.
Government made the announcement on Thursday, stating that the Ministry had the task of ensuring transportation service to and from school for students 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 students 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 violent activities on school buses, the Ministry had to re-evaluate the busing system to ensure a more effective, efficient and sustainable system for students, which is also in compliance with all the relevant ordinances and policies.
SBOA said in its statement, “We find this a blatant disrespect to the persons offering this service to the children of St. Maarten for many years, some for over 40 years in a safe and secure manner. Again, St. Maarteners and the small man are being deprived of the right of a livelihood.
“Several meetings have taken place with different governments in the past concerning, among other things, school bus routes, safety for the students as well as the drivers, and the congestion around the schools. To date nothing was done.
“Our grievances are not only limited to the transportation, but also on the financial aspect. The association since 1993 has not been able to get government to sit and discuss this financial issue.”
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 sub-contract to current and new operators.
There is video surveillance recording and control technology on all school buses in use. The technology will record 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 whereabouts of the buses, and allow for parents and government to track students on the bus in the interest of compulsory education.
The association continued in its statement, “The school bus transportation is for the benefit of the children. There is not much left for the grass-root people of the island. Look around. Instead of encouraging local entrepreneurship, we are being marginalised. Government should start looking out for those who voted them into office. We will not play dead and roll over. This is our livelihood which is being taken away from us. We feel that we are being disenfranchised on our own island.”
It is the Ministry’s objective to protect the future of students to insure effective use of available funds and limit the increasing cost of NAf. 6 million over the past five years.
With the extra funds that will become available due to the implementation of the new busing service, the Ministry intends to make several critical investments, such as maintenance and backlog of public and subsidised schools for the next 10 years, structural replacement of inventory of schools, the start of the Educational Care Centre for students of public schools and more support for teachers in schools to ensure a better quality of education.
SBOA said Government had not consulted with it before the move was made and it would not stand for the changes.
Source: The Daily Herald School Bus Association not happy with new Gov’t rules