A UNIONIST Assemblyman has queried the financial and community relations ramifications of the decision to close Larne’s St Comgall’s College and site the main Catholic secondary school in the area at St Killian’s College, Garron Tower.
Roy Beggs Jnr said the £166,000 bill for transporting hundreds of children on the 30-mile round trip is being picked up by the North Eastern education Board which, he pointed out, had no say in the rationalisation process. He added that he feared the closure of St Comgall’s in September may also have a “negative effect” on the shared learning community in Larne, through which students at all the local controlled and maintained secondary schools had frequent contact.
Mr Beggs submitted a question to Education Minister John O’Dowd, asking how many buses were being hired each day, how much it was costing and who was footing the bill.
The Larne Times has seen a copy of Mr O’Dowd’s written response, which revealed that the NEELB is responsible for covering the cost of bus passes for pupils travelling on a total of seven Ulsterbuses every day.
“The NEELB funds the provision of sessional tickets (bus passes) for eligible pupils from the existing home-to-school transport budget provided by my Department,” Mr O’Dowd stated in his answer.
Mr Beggs said: “The NEELB, which had no say in the creation of St Killian’s or the disposal of the St Comgall’s site, is having to pay out over £166,000 every year on bus passes for the pupils from Larne taking the seven Ulsterbuses to St Killian’s each day. I have to ask: Were transport costs factored in when the original decision to close St Comgall’s was taken?
“I will be asking more questions at Stormont about this whole issue. We should also remember the potentially negative effect on long term community relations caused by the CCMS decision to close St Comgall’s College. That decision – approved by the Department – means that dozens of children are literally bussed out of Larne every day.
“For 12 years, St Comgall’s and Larne High School were sharing classes in certain subjects. All that ended when St Comgall’s was closed and that important cross-community contact stopped overnight. That is hugely regrettable, and it flags up the lack of joined-up thinking in the educational sector in this country.”