DOE chief: school bus companies causing unnecessary frenzy - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

DOE chief: school bus companies causing unnecessary frenzy

Shawn Ching Shawn Ching
Pat Hamamoto Pat Hamamoto

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The opposing sides of the school bus debate are engaging in a war of words, as parents and students wonder about their transportation future.

With the state Department of Education facing a $12 million shortfall in its transportation budget, school bus companies say they found it necessary to launch a grassroots effort to save the service they provide to tens of thousands of students.

The Hawaii School Bus Association, which is comprised of 10 companies across the state, displayed petitions signed by parents and students concerned about a possible disruption in school bus service starting April 1st. The group says in two days, it has collected 10,000 signatures.

"Students should come first," Shawn Ching, HSBA spokesperson, said. "Stopping school buses, bus service rather, does not put students first in our public education system."

About 40,000 children rely on school buses to get to and from school. Bus officials say if the Department of Education doesn't come up with the $12 million needed to preserve service, it will be jeopardizing student safety, creating more traffic congestion, and harming low-income and rural families.

"Student education and the services vital to that mission should be the last place to balance our budget, not the first," Ching said.

Beginning next month, the DOE will be making certain adjustments, such as raising bus fares and eliminating service for students living within 1.5 miles from campus. But schools chief Pat Hamamoto says there's no immediate plan to halt service altogether, and that the bus companies are spreading inaccurate information and causing an unnecessary frenzy.

"That kind of behavior is absolutely unacceptable," she said.

The DOE says it's still working to find the money internally after the Board of Education decided not to ask the legislature for emergency funding.

"We're doing the best we can, as we've always done," Hamamoto said. "We will look and we will continue. There may be adjustments to the services, but there will be bus services til the end of the year."

"End of the school year?" this reporter asked.

"End of the school year, thank you," the schools superintendent replied.

Bus companies say their operating costs are rising.

Education officials say they'll have a better idea about bus service beyond this school year after they present their budget solutions to the BOE next month.

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