2007-02-02 / Front Page

School Transportation Fiasco A Rockaway Bus Bummer

By Howard Schwach

If you stood outside any school on the Rockaway peninsula this week at arrival or dismissal time, you would have heard plenty of horror stories and tales of frustration about School Chancellor Joel Klein's new student transportation plan and the way it's affecting children here.

There's the story about children from Breezy Point who attend PS 114 on Beach 135 Street. Those children now have to board their buses at 6:48 a.m. for a 15-minute trip that now takes until 7:55 a.m. - an hour and seven minutes.

There's the story of the St. Francis de Sales students who live in Rockaway and must be at their bus stop by 6:20 a.m. for a school opening time of 8 a.m.

There's the story of Breezy Point parochial elementary school students - some as young as five years old, whose parents were given MetroCards so that their children could now use public transportation to get to school, when there is no public transportation facility anywhere near the gated community.

There are the numerous stories of the school bus companies advising local schools that its buses would pick up the students at 2 p.m. while the school does not dismiss until 2:40 p.m.

There's the story of a Rockaway third grade student who attends PS 47 in Broad Channel on a safety variance whose parent were told that the 8-year-old would have to ride the subway to school each day and then walk from Noel Road, across Cross Bay Boulevard and then to the school without supervision.

There's the story of Rockaway students who attend PS 47 whose new bus driver could not speak English and did not know where Broad Channel was located. When faced with going across the Cross Bay Bridge, the driver, who had neither an EZ-Pass nor money to pay the toll, attempted to go through Far Rockaway to the Nassau Expressway and the Belt Parkway to get to Broad Channel.

The stories go on and on. Many local parents say they know know of at least one "horror story" dealing with school transportation this week.

The citywide plan cut 250 bus routes and consolidated hundreds of others. Many students who use yellow bus service are mandated now to use public transportation or to wait for the relatively few yellow buses that still run on Rockaway streets. The plan, which was developed by a consultant to the Department of Education, is expected to save about $12 million a year; the consultants were paid upwards of $10 million to develop the plan.

The plan was supposed to begin in September, but was delayed a number of times "so that parents could be brought on board and understand the changes," a department of education spokesperson said in a prepared statement.

A number of parents, however, said that they got the first word about the changes in a telephone call from their school's principal over the weekend.

Many parents are angered by the changes.

Denise Neibel is one of the Roxbury parents who was told that her children will now have to use public transportation.

She told the Daily News that she put them on the school bus on Monday despite the ban.

"I'm not taking any chances with my children," she told the News. "Anyone who thinks that it's appropriate for a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old to take public transportation to school made a really bad error in judgment."

"How can the mayor and the chancellor justify removing or switching bus service that we have been receiving for more than 10 years with little notice," asks Rockaway parent Regina McManus. "We thought that they were doing this in the best interests of our children, but it has been horrendous."

McManus, whose child was on the bus ride that wound up heading for the Belt Parkway, called the ride "scary and disastrous."

She told The Wave that her child does not want to get back on the bus, and she is urging the chancellor to go back to the old routes.

Sister Patricia, the principal of the St. Francis de Sales school on Beach 129 Street agreed with the fact that there is a major problem and concurs that the old plan worked much better.

"This has been a horrendous experience for the school and for our students," Sister Patricia told The Wave on Tuesday. "They have our babies getting on the bus at 6:20 in the morning. They get to school and have to sit in the auditorium until school begins at 8 a.m."

She says that the DOE computer system dropped the children from Breezy Point altogether.

"Roxbury has been cut off," she said. "The other children from Breezy Point were issued MetroCards. Where can they use them?

In addition, the DOE has taken one bus away from the school completely, forcing the younger and older children to ride together.

"I guess we're going to have to put three children in one seat from now on," she said. "It's legal, but I wish they'd give us back our bus."

Chancellor Klein, however, defended the changes in a prepared statement to the press.

"The first two days of the change went very smoothly," he said. "The fee paid to [the consulting firm] Alverez and Marsal was worth it. I think that we have done a good job in addressing the problems [faced in the first day]."

He urged parents with complaints to "Call 311 rather than the nearest reporter" if they are having trouble with the transportation situation.

City Councilman Joe Addabbo said that his office was flooded with calls about the transportation problem.

"It's absolutely unacceptable that Roxbury was left off the list," Addabbo said.

Addabbo said that he hopes that the problem was resolved at a special meeting held late this week.

Meanwhile, one parent at PS 114 on Wednesday afternoon said, "They put parents in jail for abandoning their 8-year old children for a few minutes. Now, they want us to put them on a bus or subway train. What sense does that make?"

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