Tempers flared briefly Tuesday at a City Council public hearing looking into the school bus schedule change debacle, which has generated frustration and anger among parents citywide whose children have been left waiting in the cold or who have had to stay home with their offspring. Councilmen Robert Jackson (D-Manhattan) and Liu led the questioning of Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm and Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott at the packed hearing at City Hall. Then members of the public, including parents of children adversely affected by the route changes, told stories of hardship they said was the result of eliminating 116 bus routes. Speaker after speaker, including Council members and the public, used words and phrases that included "fiasco" "unmitigated disaster" and "ill-conceived" to describe what they saw as a failed plan that created problems for thousands of pupils and their parents. Liu repeatedly asked Grimm how much of the $12 million in savings supposed to be realized from the bus rerouting came from knocking children off the eligibility list. At one point, Walcott broke in to say "with due respect we will not be yelled at. I will not tolerate it." Liu said later that it appeared that half the savings owed to the route changes was the result of denying bus service to needy children who had previously ridden the buses but now had been pronounced ineligible. Walcott said Liu's conclusion was built on assumptions. Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum said she was bothered by the reaction of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whom she quoted as saying "we'll adjudicate the problem and make sure you get the service if you deserve it." "Who's deciding whether a child deserves bus service? Gotbaum asked."Who decided it was safe for a 5-year-old and his 7-year-old brother to cross Northern boulevard at 193rd Street in Queens?" she asked. Gotbaum was referring to what she said was a Department of Education rule that denied bus service to several children because they live "53 feet too close to their school" to be eligible. Both Grimm and Klein apologized for the problem caused to pupils and parents, but Walcott and Klein both said they would not revert to the previous system, as suggested by Jackson. Klein cancelled a trip to Washington to appear at the hearing.Applause followed several exchanges between Jackson, Liu and Vallone and the education officials.Vallone said "many parents believe that this is the worst wintertime decision since Napoleon invaded Russia."Citing the consequences of the bus schedule changes, he asked Klein "would you now look into changing your no cellphone policy in the schools? Klein replied that it would not be changed because there was the potential for "too much havoc inside schools" if cell phones were allowed but suggested the phones might be stowed in lockers so they could be used after school and en route to home. Other Queens Council members at the hearing included LeRoy Comrie (D-St. Albans), Tony Avella (D-Bayside), Helen Sears (D-Jackson Heights), Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills), Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) and David Weprin (D-Hollis).
©2007 Community News Group
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