HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii families could soon see changes in prices for school meals and bus fares. The proposals moved forward on Tuesday, as the Department of Education struggles with budget cuts.
"We'll have to sort of wrestle with this," said BOE member Wesley Lo.
The DOE suffered a $16 million budget cut last month. Now the Abercrombie administration is asking for cost-cutting suggestions by July 8 from all state departments and agencies for 5% in cuts. That target totals about $66 million for the DOE. But in the end, the department could be spared from further reductions. All of the recommendations will be used to find a way to save $50 million from the various departments and agencies for both fiscal years 2012 and 2013.
"We've gone through, as many departments have, several years now of budget reductions so we just have to go back and take a look again," said superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi.
Meanwhile, the BOE committee on finance and infrastructure voted to advance a proposal to raise school bus fares. The cost of a one-way trip would jump from $0.75 to $1.25. A quarterly pass would increase from $60 to $72. An annual pass would rise from $225 to $270. Qualified low-income students would receive free bus passes. The fare hike is expected to increase revenues by $800,000 annually, assuming a 5% decline in ridership.
"We're already underfunded in that. Although this is not gonna take care of the whole problem I think that we're trying to move them to other public transportation," said Lo.
"When you raise the price of school bus service, you get kids off the bus and into cars and city buses, and the big thing about city buses is the criminal element rides city buses, including convicted sex offenders," said school bus driver Ken LeVasseur.
A plan to change some school meal prices also advanced. The price for lunch for elementary school students would drop from $2.35 to $2.25. Breakfast for secondary school students would rise from $1 to $1.10 and lunch would go up from $2.35 to $2.50.
"Clearly, the efforts today in terms of raising the bus fees and the other are just examples of how were are trying to find ways to balance our budget and to find the reductions that we need," said Matayoshi.
The school meal and bus fare proposals will be taken up by the full board at its next meeting. If approved, the changes would take effect August 1.