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New bus routes irk parents

Jacqueline Montgomery has two boys in kindergarten and second grade at PS 98 in Douglaston, less than a mile from her Douglas Manor home. A bus used to pick them up 10 minutes before school started and drop them off 10 minutes after the day ended.Now, under the Department of Education's plan to save money by consolidating bus routes, Montgomery's children are scheduled to be at their bus stop at 7:20 a.m. to get to school by 8:20 a.m."My kids are like yawning at 7:20," Montgomery said. "They're still in their pajamas."Students get out at 2:40 p.m., but her children wait for half an hour in the auditorium because their bus must finish its route for nearby PS 94 in Little Neck.The DOE initially said it would save $20 million by not planning bus routes for eligible students who use other transportation instead. The plan was delayed for months as the department tried to reach out to students in several languages and make sure all children who need buses were registered.The cost savings were later revised down to $12 million with some 116 bus routes cut, according to a New York Times report, but some parents say the turmoil unleashed by the mid-year change is not worth it."I think they should have done this back in September instead of in the middle of the year," said Hwei Chen, another parent of a kindergartner at PS 98.At a wide ranging news conference Monday at Lefrak City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the change."We tried very hard to get the word out," he said. "In some cases, you'll have to walk an extra block or two."He also said reports problems were exaggerated."No one is waiting two hours," he said. "Anytime you make a change like this in the city you'll be able to find one or two people to complain."Although the DOE had warned about looming bus route changes since the fall, parents at PS 98 said the city only sent them the official notice with the new drop-off and pick-up times a week ago. Chen, an expectant mother who has another young child at home, said she was just trying to get accurate information about when her kindergartner would be dropped off at the bus stop so she could meet her."I don't know exactly what time to pick up my child right now," she said. "I don't know who to contact."Although the letter from the DOE gave the phone number of the pupil transportation office, 718-482-3700, Chen said she has been referred to the bus company, which in turn sent her back to the DOE. The school does not have information on the routes, she said.Reporter Craig Giammona contributed reporting.

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