By Michèle De Meglio

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein visited an East Flatbush public school to issue an apology to parents and schoolchildren who have been inconvenienced by recent changes to the city Department of Education’s (DOE) busing procedures. “We didn’t do everything right and I apologize for that,” Klein told a packed crowd at a meeting of District 18’s Community Education Council (CEC), which was held at P.S. 268, 133 East 53rd Street. The rerouting of school bus routes has left many kids waiting in the bitter cold for buses to pick them up or walking several blocks to the nearest bus stop. “I told any parent, if you have a problem and if your kid is eligible [for busing], call 311,” Klein said. Klein said the new bus routes were part of an overall department effort to “drive money from the bureaucracy to the schools.” The new policies required parents to register their children to receive MetroCards or reserve spots on yellow school buses. This was done, officials said, because millions have been spent to provide transportation for students who actually did not ride school buses. The rerouting of public school buses means “we are saving real money,” Klein said. The DOE expects to save at least $20 million a year. That cash will be spent on such resources as “additional textbooks, additional teachers,” Klein said. Carlton Richardson, a member of the School Leadership Team for P.S. 279 in Canarsie, criticized the chancellor for making changes to bus routes and enrollment procedures without seeking prior input from parents. “You spent millions of dollars on consultants and your best consultants are in this crowd,” he said, drawing cheers from parents at the CEC meeting. Klein came under fire for making other major decisions without getting advice from parents. Derek Sacerdote, a science teacher at Tilden High School, said the DOE should have asked teachers for their opinions on how to turn the school around before making a final decision to phase out the Tilden Avenue school. Like Tilden, South Shore and Lafayette high schools will be phased out and their buildings will house several small high schools. City Councilmember Lew Fidler agreed that DOE bigwigs should consider the public’s opinions when making major decisions like closing schools. “The way to get parents more involved,” Fidler said, “is by giving them a meaningful role. People don’t care to come out [to public meetings] when their opinion isn’t taken into consideration.” Klein defended his reasons for closing struggling schools. “Tilden and South Shore have had consistent year in and year out graduation rates just around 40 percent,” he said. Klein even received criticism from a spunky 10-year-old. Amirah Browne, a student at P.S. 91, confidently walked up to a microphone and asked, “What’s up with school lunches?” Drawing a smile from Klein, the fifth-grader said school lunch is “too greasy. Kids are getting fat.” But when the chancellor asked what she would rather have for lunch, she replied, “pizza.”

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