DOE told to preserve more bus routes

By Andrew Pereira
Published On: Jun 05 2012 07:31:00 PM HST

Starting in the 2012-2013 school year, some forty-four thousand kids will have to find another way to school.

HONOLULU -

Go back and try again.  That was the message from members of the Board of Education's Finance and Infrastructure Committee Tuesday, after the Department of Education presented a plan that would eliminate 255 of 959 public school bus routes statewide.

"I think we all would agree that what is being proposed is large," said BOE and Committee member Brian De Lima. "It's not something that we would want to implement."

Under the rejected plan, 7,500 children would be forced to find another way to and from school, or roughly 18 percent of all school bus riders statewide. The majority of the eliminated routes, a total of 40, would come from the Central Oahu area.

BOE members felt the plan was too drastic, and asked for an updated proposal when the Committee meets again July 3.

"I think what's happened is the Board is really pressing us to minimize the number of students that are impacted," said Schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi.

One move being considered to help consolidate school bus routes is to change the start and stop times of certain schools. Matayoshi believes that's more likely to occur during the 2013-2014 school year

"It usually would be a school starting a little earlier and another school starting a little later," said Matayoshi. "The issue is going to be how we do that quickly, given that the start of school is coming and people are not aware that that might happen."

Cuts to school bus service were made necessary after state lawmakers set aside $25 million for next school year's student transportation program. The amount was $16 million less than what was appropriated for the 2011-2012 school year.

"The goal is to not impact any children, but we understand that's not realistic given the financial constraints we have," said BOE Chairman Don Horner.

The plan rejected by the committee cost $31 million, $6 million more than what the state Legislature set aside.

The DOE is examining whether up to $8 million of federal funds could be transferred to supplement the $25 million already appropriated by lawmakers. However, such a transfer would only offer a short-term solution.

"We want to minimize impact on students," said Matayoshi, "But there is no expectation that we can continue this beyond school year '12-'13."

Meanwhile, those who work within the school bus industry continue to lobby the Board to put off any cuts until the DOE can conduct a true cost-benefit analysis.

"What they presented to the legislature this year was a cost to DOE analysis, and a benefit to DOE analysis, not parents, not community, not children," said Ken LeVasseur, a bus driver for the past 32 years and project administrator at Gomes School Bus Service.

The DOE expects to finalize a contract by the end of June for an outside consultant to conduct a complete review of the Student Transportation Program. The consultant is supposed to issue a final report by November 15.

"It's a top-to-bottom review of the Student Transportation Program, out of which we expect to receive recommendations for improving the service and reducing the cost," said Randy Moore, the DOE's assistant superintendent for school facilities and support services.

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