Bus bill backfires

A GROUP of Willow Grove parents are up in arms after being billed almost $250 for sending their children to Trafalgar High School via bus this semester, while their neighbours can do so for free.

Trafalgar High School, on behalf of the Department of Education and Training Victoria, recently sent out letters to a number of Willow Grove parents with an invoice for school bus fares.

Parents told The Express the Willow Grove bus service had until now been free.

They said the town had one bus stop – the general store – where all students, regardless of their address, caught the school bus.

But only some families have received an invoice stating their student is a “fare bus traveller” because they are “bypassing their nearest government school to attend Trafalgar High School.”

Parent Emmaly Gridley lives on her family farm in Westbury.

Her two children, along with a boarder, attend Trafalgar High.

She said her property was 14 kilometres from Trafalgar High and 11km from Newborough’s Lowanna College, but because of a three-kilometre difference she is now facing an annual bus bill of almost $1500.

“Yes we are closer to Lowanna than Trafalgar High but not like 20km closer,” she said.

“I could understand if we drove past another school on the way to school, but we live out on a farm, we’re not driving past any other school.”

In another rule of the new arrangement, it appears children taking part in Trafalgar High’s advanced learning program are exempt from the fare.

Willow Grove’s Rob Phoenix said he was facing a bill for only one of his two step-children.

He said he had been told because one of the children was in the school’s advanced learning program they could travel for free, as Lowanna did not offer such program.

Mr Phoenix labelled the exemption “discriminatory” and said he did not intend to pay the bill.

“How can you justify half the town paying fees and the other half doesn’t when they all walk to the same pick-up point, just because of your address?,” Mr Phoenix said.

“It’s disgusting and we were given no information, no warning prior.”

It’s this lack of prior warning that has mother Sue Sikacek refusing to pay.

“I’ve never not paid a bill,” Ms Sikacek said.

She told The Express there was “just metres” difference in distance between her home and the two schools.

“But in theory, they’re (Willow Grove students) all coming from the same distance,” Ms Sikacek said.

She said she resided and paid rates in Baw Baw Shire so she should be able to send her children to a high school on the bus in the same municipality.

“We’ve been at the same school while we’ve been here… and the distance from the milk bar to Lowanna and Trafalgar are about the same,” Ms Sikacek said.

All parents who spoke with The Express said they understood the decision was made by the Department and not the high school.

The Department of Education and Training did not respond to questions from The Express by time of publication.

Trafalgar High was also unable to comment by deadline.