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DOE offers recommendations to improve bus service

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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

The Hawaii State Department of Education (DOE) on Friday released the results of a study that analyzed the Hawaii's school bus transportation system.

The DOE ordered the comprehensive study in August to determine what led to increased costs by school bus contractors, and to investigate strategies to improve efficiencies.

After a two-month review of the bus transportation system, DOE consultant Management Partnership Services (MPS) submitted its Student Bus Transportation Study, along with several recommendations.

"This thorough review was necessary to clearly identify missteps taken over the years so that they are not repeated," stated Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi. "The recommendations on the path forward are equally important as we implement both short- and long-term changes."

MPS is recommending a fundamental overhaul of the DOE's Student Transportation Services Branch, including changes to contracting practices to encourage competitive pricing, clarify expectations and improve contract management. Some of the recommended changes will require the upcoming 2013 Hawaii State Legislature to address potential revisions to the Hawaii Revised Statutes that govern school bus contract laws.

"We will be briefing the Legislature on this recommendation in changing the law to improve the procurement process," noted Superintendent Matayoshi.

The MPS study found the entire student transportation services program is in need of systemic change; specifically in areas that address costs, procurement, organizational structure and technological upgrades for monitoring and support. Among the findings:

· There is a lack of cost data to do year-over-year studies. However, most glaring is that the costs of school bus transportation in Hawaii are among the highest in the nation at $86,500 per active bus route, and about $1,750 per transported student. Dramatic cost increases between the 2006 and 2010 fiscal years were largely attributed to higher rates paid to bus contractors. The increase in rates in fiscal year 2011-12 did not subside, but leveled as a result of fewer routes.

· Procurement and contracting practices are inefficient with the absence of competitive bidding due to the constraints in the procurement process itself. Furthermore, efficiency of the bus contractors should be better clarified along with service requirements to support improvement recommendations.

· The DOE's student bus transportation staff needs to be realigned, and receive training and improved support to administer vast responsibilities of a $60 million annual budget.

The report also noted Hawaii's unique geography and relatively closed market as additional constraints to the procurement system. Specifically, MPS is recommending that the DOE pilot a revised business model next school year (2013-14), and execute a revised competitive procurement process for contracts in the 2014-15 school year.

"Our commitment is to our students' ability to learn," said Raymond L'Heureux, assistant superintendent for the DOE's Office of School Facilities and Support Services. "Getting them to school in the most efficient, safe and timely manner is a high priority."

The DOE's school bus transportation system serves more than 35,000 students annually through 700 buses operated by 12 contractors on five islands: Kauai, Oahu, Maui, Molokai and Hawaii Island. In late June, the DOE announced more than 100 bus routes were being eliminated due to rising costs and a loss of funding. The DOE streamlined services and restored a number of routes, but was unable to restore all of them. In all, more than 2,300 students at 51 different schools were affected.

"The report provides an excellent and needed road map for the Department to comprehensively address our bus transportation challenges," stated Board of Education (BOE) Chairman Don Horner. "The Board is appreciative of the Superintendent and her new management team's commitment to address these long-standing educational challenges with transparency and a sense of urgency. We have invited the principles of Management Partnership Services to a Board public informational briefing on December 4."

The MPS Study will be presented at the BOE's Informational Briefing on Tuesday, December 4 at 11:30 a.m. at the Queen Liliuokalani Building, Room 404.

Copyright 2012 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

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