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Photo courtesy APEC
By Phil Corso

It has been a bumpy ride for Douglaston’s Alley Pond Environmental Center.

After a hectic fall season thrown into a whirlwind since Superstorm Sandy, the center took yet another hit from a citywide school bus drivers’ strike.

Without buses, students have been unable to get to APEC for workshops since drivers went on strike in mid-January. The center has lost more than $4,000 in field trip revenue and more than 100 class visits, the group said.

“We are simply doing our best,” said Irene V. Scheid, executive director at APEC.

To try and supplement the loss of nearly 2,000 students trekking to the center throughout the month, Scheid said APEC put some new ideas into drive to raise much-needed funding. Since the strike, APEC has taken its educational programs on the road, on the wheels of personal staff vehicles, to visit city schools.

Though it has been an adequate temporary fix, Scheid said the new method still leaves students shorthanded.

What has typically been a two-hour program with a lecture, animal showcase and hands-on project has shifted into a condensed 45-minute lecture with a brief animal meet-and-greet, Scheid said.

“It is not the same as a visit to our center,” she said. “But it is still a fun learning experience.”

Instead of having students come to the center, where various animals are housed, APEC crews must transport the different species themselves — which presented a new set of challenges.

“Our animals, especially our reptiles, need heaters to be able to traverse to schools in this frigid weather,” Scheid said.

Last month, bus drivers with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 called a strike amid a dispute with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Department of Education over whether or not jobs guarantee for senior workers in the form of an Employee Protection Provision could be included in new contracts. The strike left more than 150,000 city students without rides to school – 54,000 of whom have disabilities and require special transportation arrangements, the DOE said.

City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the union’s demands were impossible to meet after a 2011 state Court of Appeals ruling blocked job protections specifically for pre-kindergarten contracts.

Last week, the National Labor Relations Board ruled the strike was legal, validating the work stoppage and putting pressure on the city to continue negotiating.

Until then, Scheid said she continues to keep a close watch on the news to hopefully celebrate a small victory in what has been a rough several months. If things don’t get better, she said the center would be forced to consider its options, which could include staff cuts.

“We check the news every day because this really affects our income,” Scheid said. “I don’t think people are realizing the impact this strike has on groups like APEC. It will definitely have an impact on our bottom line.”

APEC will continue fund-raising this spring with an April 25 Green Gala at Terrace on the Park with hopes of bringing in more than $40,000 for the cause.

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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