GREAT BAY—If parents want school bus service to remain free, someone still has to pay for it, argued Minister of Education Silveria Jacobs. The minister, in providing an update via the Council of Ministers press briefing yesterday, stressed that the government is still trying to find a cost effective solution to the school bus service issue but stressed that people must decide whether they want to pay for the service or if government has to provide it for free.
If the government has to provide the service, the burden would be on the public to pay through taxes, the minister contended. “Those that consider and think that school bus and school and everything related to it should be totally free would then have to realize that requires more taxes….somebody has to pay for it,” Minister Jacobs told journalists at the press conference. “Some of us want the good without paying for it. Somebody has to pay for it at the end of the day,” the minister said.
The minister stressed that the budget of the education ministry is limited and as such has to be spent prudently to achieve the best results. “We are not able to provide for the afterschool programs as we would like to provide. We’re not able to have the transitional classes; we put it on the budget as well. And it would start very, very small if its starts at all. The Education Care Center to meet the needs of students who are experiencing problems in the elementary schools to pull them out and re-evaluate them and hopefully re-train them so they can be good citizens of St. Maarten and finish their education and not become criminals, all those programs can be cut. So should I pay the school busses? Let the public decide,” the minister argued.
Minister Jacobs lamented that fact that despite several efforts to have the matter sorted with the bus drivers, it continues to be a challenge. “We would like to pay for services received and that has not been the case over the past years. We’ve had increased invoicing; we cannot prove what was done. We did a study together with the transport department and it has been proven through those data that we are paying for mostly empty busses,” the minister said. “We would like to pay per child; we proposed that last year it created a stink. Policy could not (be approved), it had to go through a whole bidding process…and (it) became more expensive. We are looking to be able to continue on a contractual basis with the school bus operators but in a very effective and efficient way,” Minister Jacobs stated.
The minister asserted that in other countries like Aruba and Curacao parents pay a school bus fee. “Our children who leave St. Maarten and go there, their parents have to pay a school bus fee,” she said.
The minister asserted that the government wants to ensure not just the cost effectiveness of the school bus system, but safety of the students as well. “Some parents don’t send their children on the bus because they don’t perceive it as safe. And if a parent is then willing to send (their child) and pay, that reduces the direct cost from the government’s coffers and then we would just need to be able to make arrangements for that to happen,” the minister explained.