East Hawaii parents dodged a bullet Tuesday when members of the state Board of Education voted to fund all school bus routes on the east side of the island. However, nearly 200 West Hawaii students will need to find alternative transportation in the fall.
Plans presented to the board a few months ago called for leaving 2,600 Big Island students without a bus ride to school. While the board voted to continue East Hawaii school bus routes, not all students in Hawaii will be covered by the new transportation budget, however.
During a phone call immediately following Tuesday’s meeting, Big Isle BOE representative Brian De Lima explained a total of 3,849 students statewide would be left without bus service.
In West Hawaii, a total of four routes carrying 179 students will be discontinued in the coming academic year, according to the newest incarnation of the plan approved by the BOE. They include: 36 Kealakehe High students in the Liliuokalani subdivision; 47 Kealakehe High students in the Jack Hall and Lailani Apartments; 45 Waikoloa Elementary and Middle students in Waikoloa Gardens, Paniolo Greens, Makana Kai, Waikoloa Hills, Mahina, Ua-Noe, Auhili Loop, and Kauhiwai; and 51 Waikoloa Elementary and Middle students in LuaKula, Laie, AkaUla, Hulu, and KilaKila.
Meanwhile, 635 students on Maui, and about 3,000 students on Oahu also will be affected, he said.
“They (Oahu) had by far the largest percentage of students affected. On Oahu, they have a municipal bus service, so students can rely on that. But we don’t have a bus system like that on the Neighbor Islands,” De Lima said.
Tuesday’s decision came after weeks of back and forth deliberations between the Board of Education and the school system in an attempt to cut costs in the state’s school transportation program. The Department of Education was left this year with a $17 million shortfall in its transportation budget after the state Legislature cut funding in an attempt to bridle runaway costs associated with the private bus contractors that provide Hawaii keiki with service.
Early versions of the Department of Education’s plans to deal with the cuts involved huge cuts to its bus routes, leaving thousands of parents to figure out how to get their children to school. Ultimately, however, the plans focused on minimizing outright cuts, instead consolidating various routes to save money, as well as locating extra money to put toward the transport budget.
Randy Moore, the school system’s recently retired assistant superintendent for school facilities and support, said earlier this month consolidation could save a lot of money, but only in the state’s more urban population centers.
“That only works where schools are fairly clustered,” he said. “It doesn’t work in Honokaa, where it would work in Hilo.”
According to De Lima, in the last several weeks, the BOE had discovered an additional $1.5 million in federal aid funds that could be put toward busing, allowing many routes on the neighbor islands to be saved, including those in East Hawaii.
While the BOE has now finalized its approval for the school system’s transportation budget, the final decision on how those funds are to be used is up to Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi. She will report on her decision to the BOE at its next meeting July 3.