Volume 20 Issue 17 | September 7 - 13, 2007

The wheels on the no-show bus go right by B.P.C. students

By Skye H. McFarlane

When Olivia Goodkind and her father, Tom, did a test run of the trip to Simon Baruch middle school this summer, the results were not encouraging. The subway route took 45 minutes, including two long cross-town walks. The two Goodkinds then walked to South Ferry to try the M15 bus. They waited. And waited.

“Finally we just gave up and took a taxi,” Olivia said.

Unfortunately for the Goodkinds and a dozen other Downtown families, history repeated itself on Tuesday — in more ways than one. After a summer of parental lobbying, the Dept. of Education had pledged to provide a school bus to bring local sixth graders to Baruch. On the first day of school, though, the bus never came.

In Battery Park City, the Goodkinds, two other students and another parent waited for 20 minutes before piling into a minivan taxi and rushing up to school. The scene recalled not only the Goodkinds’ previous trials, but also the chaos that erupted Downtown last winter when the city changed scores of bus routes with little or no parental notification.

“At least we’re taking something yellow,” Tom Goodkind said, shrugging as he dashed towards the cab.

The topic of a Baruch bus has floated around Downtown for several years, with support from both local parents and Community Board 1. However, for a number of reasons, the bus never materialized.

Although Lower Manhattan children apply to and attend many different public middle schools around the city, Baruch is the only middle school zoned for District 2 — meaning that it is designed to accept all District 2 children. Even though Baruch offers one of the city’s popular gifted and talented programs, the “local” middle school has not always been a favorite with Downtown parents.

A big reason is transportation. The school sits on E. 21st St. between Second and First Aves. — a 15 minute walk from the 6 train at 23rd St. and Lexington Ave. West side children must walk an additional 10 to 15 minutes to reach the Lexington Avenue line. And not every parent is comfortable sending a sixth-grader on the city subway at rush hour.

“Maybe it’s because I’m from California, but I didn’t want him on the subway,” said Patsy Jones as she waited for the school bus Tuesday morning with her son, Alex. “He’s only 11. Maybe I’m being an overprotective mother, but I’m just not crazy about him riding alone.”

Jones said that if the school had not arranged a yellow bus, she would have sent Alex on the M9 city bus, which travels from South End Ave. to E. 14th St. — a trip that takes nearly an hour, including a seven-block walk to the school.

“We were really happy to hear about the [school] bus,” Patsy Jones said. “[Alex] would have had to get up so early to take the M9.”

For budgetary and logistical reasons, most middle schoolers in New York City are entitled to MetroCards, but not to school bus service. However, some sixth graders can secure buses if there is sufficient parent interest and if the children live more than a mile from their zoned middle school. Parents of ineligible children can also arrange to pay for school bus service. Both options, though, require pushing through the forms and complex logistics of the D.O.E.’s Office of Pupil Transportation.

Last spring, local parents renewed the quest for a bus. After an endless series of phone calls and emails between parents, Baruch parent coordinator Rosalyn Asciolla and the Office of Pupil Transportation, the parents were told on Aug. 1 that they would have the option of a school bus. On Aug. 28, Asciolla sent out a confirmation and a schedule.

On Sept. 4, the children waited dutifully at their assigned stops, but their bus never arrived. Parents were assured by the school that there would be a bus to take the children home, but at noon Goodkind heard from the bus company that there would be no bus home, either. The news sent the parents scrambling yet again.

At the school, Goodkind located the numbered bus that had been scheduled to pick up his daughter. There were no kids on the bus and the driver gave Goodkind a copy of his schedule. Unlike the school’s copy of the schedule, which listed the anticipated stops in Battery Park City and Tribeca, the driver’s copy showed different stops — three of which were scheduled to have “0” students.

Last year, the D.O.E. hired consultants to streamline the city’s school bus routes, eliminating empty stops and underused buses. While intended to save $12 million, the measure created chaos. Stories poured in from around the city of 5:45 a.m. pick-up times, 6-year-olds being handed MetroCards and widespread confusion among both parents and bus drivers. Locally, a group of P.S. 234 students at Southbridge Towers was faced with losing their bus because they lived a tenth of a mile too close to school. Meanwhile, P.S. 89 students in Battery Park City were inexplicably sent two buses for several days in a row.

The Southbridge students eventually regained their bus through a D.O.E. variance, and by the end of the day Tuesday it looked as though the Baruch sixth-graders would be heading for a happy ending as well. According to Goodkind, the bizarre rerouting of the bus occurred because of a clerical processing glitch. The addresses of the stops had to be changed slightly because the children had erroneously been scheduled for pick-ups on West St. While the changes were processing, the computer reset the bus route to a schedule from several years ago, leaving the local students high and dry.

However, Goodkind said he was promised that the kinks would be ironed out by Friday or Monday. In the meantime, he advised the parents of the 14 children on the bus list to find alternate transportation.

“Good news,” Goodkind said Tuesday night. “The bus is coming. It’s just not here yet.”

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