DOE lost control of school bus program, audit finds

DOE lost control of school bus program, audit finds

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An audit released today says the state has been inefficient and sloppy and it's resulted in wasted resources and money.

School bus costs have gone up $48 million in the past six years and contracts have "unjustifiably" jumped 259 percent, all while services have been cut.

The audit was a harsh reality that "the Department of Education has lost control of its student transportation program."  It found the DOE "lacks data to evaluate routes for cost efficiencies." Employees are "ill equipped and under qualified" and "the Department has misjudged transportation needs and wasted state resources."

"Nobody likes getting punched in the nose but it's a valid audit," said Ray L'Heureux, Department of Education Assistant Superintendent.

L'Heureux took over as assistant superintendent job eight weeks ago and walked into the school bus system "debacle" when the budget was cut by $16 million and more than 2,000 kids were affected by route changes or cuts.

"I really did the forensics of ok how did we get to where we are and even I could see that this is a process that hasn't been looked at or nurtured for quite some time so the audit, no surprises at all," said L'Heureux.

Safety was mentioned in the report when it said, the department has failed to evaluate and track bus stop locations for adherence to safety standards, instead allowing its contractors to choose locations based on where children congregate."

The audit points out that the state is paying the bus contractors General Excise Tax to the tune of $2.2 million which the auditor says is illogical for the state to pay itself taxes.  No one knew how that got into the contract.

"We're looking at the GET piece so I don't want to comment on that until we examine the entire thing," said L'Heureux.

The department also has not received competitive bus service bids in years.  There's no system to monitor contractors.  And the state "has failed to flag potentially anticompetitive actions that may have contributed to rising costs."

Inadequate planning has also led to the DOE to pay contractors $100 a day per bus to idle for the next three years.

"I scratch my head as well. The fact that I just came on, I looked at that as well and said well this is silly. So in our quest to bring transportation into the 21st century that's also something that has to be addressed but it also comes in where you list that as a qualification/requirement. Line that out right in front, no idle bus costs or the vendor has to absorb those changes or they don't bid on that contract if they can't do that," said L'Heureux.

As for remedies, the DOE plans to redesign the bidding process.  It has also hired consultant Management Partnership Services Inc. to help with the transition.  The consultant's contract is worth $109,000. It will work to add route planning software and a GPS framework to track and maintain route mileage and ridership.

Click HERE to see the full audit.

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