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Parents win reprieve in school transport funding cuts row
THE parents of children in Darlington set to miss out on free school transport as a result of council budget cuts have won a reprieve after funding was found for the next intake.
Families living in rural parts of Darlington reacted with anger earlier this year when Darlington Borough Council voted to change its eligibility criteria for subsidised school transport as part of budget cuts.
The decision meant school transport would be free to children living three miles from their nearest secondary school rather than the previous two miles, saving the authority £394,110 over five years.
Now, after months of negotiations the Darlington Schools Forum has agreed to fund school transport for pupils living in affected areas who join secondary school in 2013/14 onwards, at a cost of £70,000 a year.
It is not yet known whether funding can be found for children starting school in 2014/15 and beyond.
Keith Cotgrave, chairman of the School Forum, made up of representatives from schools across the borough, said: “This should come as a massive relief to all parents in Darlington. The forum has worked hard to address this situation and to find a solution.
“This is a good example of Darlington head teachers working together for the benefit of all Darlington school children.”
Councillor Gerald Lee, ward member for Heighington, which was affected by the change, welcomed the news for the 2013/14 intake, but said plans were already underway to provide for the future.
He said: “The pressure has been relieved for parents of children moving up in 2013, but for parents with younger children there is still concern. We are working to come up with a system, possibly run by the schools, so that parents know where they stand in future years."
Councillor Cyndi Hughes, the council’s cabinet member for children and young people, said: “Due to massive cuts in the council budget, the future of school transport has been a worrying concern for many families. Headteachers working together in partnership within the Schools Forum have agreed a way forward.
“The council will continue to do all that we can to support this valuable work for a sustainable and long-term solution.”