Sunday | October 22, 2017
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State looks to fix bus system; Waikoloa schools lost in fray

Despite reduced service, Waikoloa Elementary and Middle School hasn’t experienced any significant bus woes.

The school was the only Big Island facility to lose bus service this academic year. Principal Kris Kosa-Correia said only the bus traveling within Waikoloa village to the school was eliminated and those affected — roughly 25 students — have gotten to and from school without any major problems.

A comprehensive study of Hawaii’s troubled school bus system is now being reviewed by the Attorney General and the following reform remains to be seen.

The state Department of Education recently announced its consultant, Management Partnership Services, submitted a two-month study of increased rates charged by school bus contractors and possible strategies to improve the transportation system.

“The MPS study is the first of many steps in a process of reform needed for our school bus transportation system. It provides recommendations for the procurement, data and performance processes, which are part of the foundation of change,” DOE Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said in a statement released Monday. “The DOE is committed to making substantive improvements by doing its due diligence in implementing solutions that provide the most efficient, timely and safe transportation services for our students.”

The study comes after numerous school bus routes statewide were eliminated or consolidated this academic year because of a deficit in the student transportation services budget. DOE originally announced in June that more than 100 bus routes were to be discontinued. It later streamlined services and restored a number of routes, but was unable to restore all of them.

In August, a state audit blasted DOE officials for “ineffective and unsystematic management of student bus services” that had “resulted in spiraling costs.” It concluded DOE had “lost control of its student transportation program,” after citing various concerns about procurement practices, bus stop safety and those overseeing the transportation services.

According to the audit, money spent on student transportation statewide had nearly tripled to $72.4 million since 2006. DOE had not received competitive bus service bids in years, and bids for existing contracts had “unjustifiably” risen by as much as 259 percent.

DOE officials would not release a copy of the MPS study Tuesday and declined to be interviewed about its contents or possible changes until its analysis is complete.

“The department needs time to review the analysis and consider its next steps,” said DOE spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz. “To release it before a complete review by the department and the (Attorney General’s office) may jeopardize DOE’s strategy going forward on procurement and possible litigation.”