CONTROVERSIAL plans to axe free buses to and from two Hartlepool Catholic schools have been approved.
Councillors said they made the decision with a “heavy heart” to save the authority £130,000.
But in a compromise to the schools and parents concerned the council will delay the removal of the denominational transport until September next year.
It means all new pupils of English Martyrs School and Sixth Form College and St Teresa’s Primary School will not receive the free discretionary transport.
But existing pupils who already receive the free transport will continue to do so until they move or leave school as the system is phased out.
The council has avoided scrapping the scheme in recent years after the idea proved unpopular with the schools and teachers.
But the authority says it is facing “unprecedented financial pressures” as it needs to find £19.2 million in savings over the next three years.
Councillor Chris Simmons, chair of the Children’s Services Committee, said: “It is really with a heavy heart but this is something that the council does need to make.
“We are entering a very dark period of finances for the council.
“I don’t like this any more than anybody else does and if there were another way we would find it.”
There are currently 375 pupils from both schools who receive the free transport, including 35 at St Teresa’s.
The council says the current cost to the authority of the denominational transport is £130,000 a year.
A consultation on the future of the scheme was carried out by the two schools between November 18 and January 9.
It showed that the free transport was highly valued by the schools and parents.
Council officers said there was a “genuine commitment” to work with the schools affected to explore providing the transport on a concessionary basis.
Councillor Paul Thompson said he was concerned about the potential cost to parents with several children, particularly those in Seaton Carew and on the Headland.
English Martyrs headteacher Michael Lee said: “It is very sad it has come to this but we do recognise the pressures that the council is under.
“At least parents will know in the future what the situation is going to be.”