School bus service could be cut for thousands of kids

Rep. Roy Takumi
Rep. Roy Takumi

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Parents may want to start thinking about alternative plans on how to get their kids to and from school.  The Department of Education has developed a worst case scenario for its school bus system.  It would eliminate bus service for nearly all middle and high schools in the state and a lot of elementary schools too.

"We would expect increased tardiness, increased absence, you may get some of the older high school students who say oh let's just forget it, it's too much work I'll just drop out," said Randy Moore, Department of Education Assistant Superintendent.

That's not a good option which is why the DOE plans to look for other areas to cut instead.  But they still need to figure out what's less important than school buses.

"Student transportation service is very valuable to the students and it's something we would not want to reduce to that extent if possible so we would then look at other programs in the Department where we can say well we need to reduce that program to free up some money for student transportation," said Moore.

About 39,000 students statewide ride the school bus at a cost of $75 million a year. That includes special education services.  The state contracts ten bus companies which have 500 buses and 800 routes.

The Department of Education is also waiting on the legislature.  Lawmakers are expected to give between $19 and $22 million less than the DOE asked for.

"We know school bus transportation is critical for many of our families and for so many of our communities. The real million dollar question or the multimillion dollar question is how do we keep it sustainable in terms of the costs," said Sen. Jill Tokuda, Senate Education Committee Chair. "I think right now calm heads need to prevail. We need to have some very frank discussions on where we are going to go from here. I think everyone in the legislature understands how important bus transportation is for our families, especially at the elementary school levels, for our rural communities where regular county bus transportation may not be available to them so I don't think we can have a situation where we have an all or nothing game."

There was a bill that would have streamlined school bell schedules in order to make buses more efficient and save millions of dollars.

"Part of the impact of that bill would if we streamline the bell schedule would have led to a far more effective bus system because then buses would have dropped off and picked up children in a way that made sense within that school complex," said Rep. Roy Takumi, House Education Committee Chair.

But that bill stalled this week so it's back to talking cuts.  Discussions will need to speed up as decisions need to be made before next school year.

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