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Poor Transit Access Forces Red Hook School to Pay for Field Trip Buses

By Nikhita Venugopal | November 14, 2013 9:47am
 P.S. 15 in Red Hook has been facing transportation troubles because of the added cost of buses for field trips, according to parents and education officials.
P.S. 15 in Red Hook has been facing transportation troubles because of the added cost of buses for field trips, according to parents and education officials.
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RED HOOK — A Red Hook school has raised thousands of dollars to pay for transportation for field trips because of limited access to public transit, education officials say.

Like many residents of Red Hook, P.S. 15 Patrick F. Daly, located at 71 Sullivan St., has faced transportation troubles for years. The neighborhood doesn’t have its own subway stop and locals have often complained about infrequent bus service.

For most field trips, even within the five boroughs, the school must hire yellow buses or charter private coaches — an added expense to the elementary school’s strained budget.

“The busing takes so much of a chunk out of our budget,” said Lydia Bellahcene, the school’s PTA president.

In the past, fundraising through flea markets and potlucks has brought in $3,000 to $6,000 to make up busing costs outside the school’s budget, said Bellahcene, whose four children attend P.S. 15.

“We make sure the kids have what they need no matter what it is,” she said.

Public subways, buses and authorized intercity and private buses that comply with federal, state, city and DOE rules can be used for transporting students, according to the Department of Education Chancellor’s Regulations in regard to school trips. 

The DOE’s Office of Pupil Transportation will provide buses for trips within the five boroughs between 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., according to their website.

But outside those parameters, including trips to Liberty Island, Radio City Music Hall, sporting events and Madison Square Garden, the school must hire a standard yellow bus for $800 or charter a private coach, which could cost more than $1,000, according to the OPT website and Marie Sirotniak, the school’s reading teacher who has organized their field trips for 10 years.

Field trips at P.S. 15, a pre-K through fifth grade school, have included excursions to the Museum of Modern Art, Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, Carnegie Hall and Club Getaway in Connecticut, a sports and adventure resort, said Sirotniak. The school also has a partnership with the Metropolitan Opera.

“Art teachers are fantastic with really infusing our curriculum with field trips,” she said.

But even local trips require buses, since walking to the Smith-Ninth Streets F/G subway station, more than a mile from the school, is not an option.

“It would be great if there could be a local bus to take them to the F train,” said Sirotniak.

The PTA has recommended alternative modes of transport, including using the Red Hook ferry and the Ikea shuttle bus or providing the school with a few extra buses. The DOE has not responded to their requests, said Bellahcene.

The DOE responded to DNAinfo New York's inquiries with the Chancellor’s regulations regarding school trips.

As a Title 1 school, which receives additional federal funding due to a high percentage of low-income students, P.S. 15 has several opportunities for greater cultural learning, said Rachel Porter, chairwoman of District 15 Community Education Council.

Porter suggested that the city provide a fund for schools that don't have a nearby subway stop “so that the children of Red Hook get the same advantages that children across the city get,” she said.

“It’s not OK to have this kind of inequity,” said Porter.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority referred requests for comment to the DOE.

Caitlin Cassaro, a P.S. 15 parent, said a dedicated bus for field trips is vital, especially for students in special education classes, including her son who is in first grade.

“It’s a little harder for people to get in and a little harder for people to get out,” said Cassaro, who lives in Red Hook. “Every single place we want to go to, we need a bus.”

While Cassaro credited school officials and the PTA for their efforts in fundraising and planning trips, the school needs more creative ways to transport students without so much cost and frustration, she said.

“Our kids have to get out into the world," she said. "Why does this have to be an issue?”