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Walcott apologizes to Dist. 25 over bus sked cuts

But some parents at the meeting of Community Education Council 25 said the bus route trouble was a symptom of broader dysfunction in the city Department of Education: a disconnect between parents and decision-makers that has widened under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, speaking to parents at IS 25 in Flushing on Feb. 7, struck a conciliatory tone on the same day his boss called the public advocate and other critics of the bus plan "people who have no experience in doing anything.""I apologize to those who lived through the pain of that," Walcott said of the mid-year elimination of 116 bus routes. "There have been a number of glitches along the way and we've been working to correct those glitches."He said the savings - estimated at $6 million this year and $12 million in future years - will provide more money for instruction.But some parents were more angry that the decision to consolidate bus routes was made from the top down without the involvement of the parents who were affected.Stewart Weinberg, a member of the District 25 education council, which covers Whitestone, Flushing, College Point, Bay Terrace and part of Fresh Meadows, told Walcott that the failure to consult parents beforehand is characteristic of how the DOE operates."We are always at the effect of things and never ever are we at the cause," Weinberg said.Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) both attended the meeting and faulted the Education Department for imposing sweeping structural changes without considering their impact on day-to-day education."There's no communication. This is a system problem," Avella said. "It's almost like a perpetual state of chaos."Padavan said the mayor and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein were pushing a new plan to reorganize the schools before giving their first reforms a chance to work."It's like moving an oil tanker or an aircraft carrier. You can't move it very quickly," he said. "Three or four years of one particular system is not long enough."Walcott defended the city's latest plan to abolish the DOE's administrative regions, created four years ago to centralize the power that used to be in the hands of community school boards."The goal is to flatten the bureaucracy," he said.Walcott also tried to allay fears that the mayor's Fair Student Funding plan, intended to give schools the same amount of money per student, would hurt schools with highly paid veteran teachers, like many in District 25.He said the plan will be phased in gradually and will apply to the salaries of newly hired teachers but not of teachers already in the system."Even in [District 25] there are schools that are below the citywide average as far as how much money they are budgeted per student," he said, adding that the plan aims to correct that.Reach reporter John Tozzi by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext. 174.

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