2014-03-14 / Columnists

Eye On Rockaway

Open Letter: Mayor De Blasio and Chancellor Fariña On OPT; Busing
By Miriam Rosenberg

I am writing this, Mr. Mayor and Chancellor Fariña, on an issue that concerns me not just as a reporter but as one of many who has a family member in the city’s school system. It is an issue you, Mr. Mayor, brought to the public’s attention as Public Advocate in the 2011 report “Doing More with Less: How School Transportation is Failing Students and Taxpayers.” archive.advocate. nyc.gov/schooltransportation.

The report detailed problems of the Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) and the buses that transport city students, especially special needs students. Chancellor, as I am sure you remember, this is a topic you heard a lot about during your visit to Rockaway when you attended last month’s meeting of Community Education Council 27.

Unfortunately not much has changed since the 2011 report came out. Chancellor, as Sandra Schunk – who has a 13-year-old autistic daughter told you — the bus constantly comes 45 minutes late and when she calls the company “no one answers.”

The last thing special needs children and their parents need is more anguish to add to already difficult lives. Yet, they continue to be frustrated by OPT and the bus companies. Chancellor, from reports, I see you are already taking special needs children to heart as you have said special needs schools will no longer lose precious space to co-locations. I applaud that. Now something must be done about the daily transportation grind these children and their families face.

I have written about this before when my niece first began to attend school and my family had our first experiences with OPT and the bus system. www.rockawave.com/news/2011-12- 16/Columnists/East_ End_ Matters.

We finally got help by contacting our local representatives. But families should not have to resort to calling their city councilman or state assemblyman to get help with school busing problems.

There are several recommendations in the 2011 report. Good ones. While putting bus routes out for bid has already been accomplished, others need to be followed through on.

There must be better parent notification of problems or delays with buses both in the morning and in the afternoon. A child should not have to miss instruction because he or she is constantly picked up late and parents should not have to wonder where their children are in the afternoon. There also needs to be a proper way for parents to lodge complaints with OPT and then have assurance they will hear back about how those complaints will be resolved.

More than money factors need to be considered when awarding bus routes. Ask parents. They will tell you the companies with which they have had unlimited problems. The report suggests that the Department of Education establish baselines for safety, timing and efficiency, and customer service. Companies not meeting those baselines should have their routes reduced. Companies meeting the standards should get preference throughout the bidding process.

Mr. Mayor, Madame Chancellor, you have the opportunity to correct these problems. Doing so would go a long way to improving a broken system that all too often finds the city’s children, especially special needs children, getting the short end of the stick.

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