MORE than 120 pupils face losing their free bus to school and enduring long diversions on public transport, under council plans to save £100,000 a year.
Parents claim the City of York Council proposals to withdraw free discretionary transport for church schools, affecting up to 123 pupils at Manor CE Academy and All Saints’ RC School, are “discriminatory against Christians”, said York Outer MP Julian Sturdy.
“Some parents have expressed grave concerns over the safety of their children, particularly those with younger children, in making two journeys to the city centre every weekday in order to change buses,” he said in a letter to head of school services, Mark Ellis.
Conservative MP Mr Sturdy said a number of constituents had raised their concerns with him about the cuts, which would affect children from communities including Copmanthorpe, Dringhouses, Clifton Moor, Skelton, Hessay, Rufforth, Askham Richard and Askham Bryan.
Manor head Brian Crosby said children who currently got to school in as little as 15 minutes on one free bus would in future have to travel on two, possibly three buses, into the city centre and then back out again to Manor, on journeys taking up to an hour and a quarter and at a cost of £2 a day.
He expressed concern about the stress caused by such long daily journeys, and claimed the change would place an undue burden on people in rural areas.
He believed some parents would take their children to school by car, adding to already severe rush-hour congestion on routes such as the outer ring road.
A report by Mr Ellis will be considered this afternoon by Coun Janet Looker, cabinet member for education. It says the council is facing considerable financial pressures and must reduce expenditure.
It says a phased withdrawal of denominational transport had been agreed in 2012 after a report concluded it was unfair and gave an advantage to pupils attending such schools.
Now Coun Looker was being asked to consider the option of beginning consultation on an acceleration of the withdrawal of the free service to this September, except for pupils with parents and carers on low incomes.
He said it was recognised the decision could lead to more cars on the road at peak times and for Manor pupils, public transport routes would not be as direct as the current service, although the new A59 Park & Ride Service would improve public transport.
A bus which transports pupils to St Wilfrid’s RC Primary School from a wide area at an annual cost of £35,000 could also be hit. The report suggests one option would be to keep it going but charge parents £420 a year towards the cost, with an exemption for those with free school meals.
Another option would be to scrap the bus and only provide transport for pupils with parents on low incomes.
Coun Looker said there would be no immediate decision and if the council proceeded with a consultation, it would be in contact with parents to gain their “much valued” views.
She said York, like all local authorities, was having to make increasingly tough decisions on services in the light of having to make savings of £65 million by 2015/16, including £11 million next year alone.
There was no statutory duty to provide free transport to faith schools and York was one of few councils still providing it.