DOE rolls out school bus reforms
HALAWA HEIGHTS (HawaiiNewsNow) - As public school students headed back to classes, the state began restoring bus service for hundreds of children on Oahu. The Hawaii State Department of Education is also rolling out other changes to overhaul its troubled transportation system.
Anne Rice and her children eagerly waited for the school bus to show up on Monday morning. Nicholas, 7, and Hayden, 5, were among the more than 2,000 students who lost their bus service last year. The Halawa Heights family used to walk a mile and a half to Webling Elementary School.
"There's no sidewalks. There's no curbs. It's extremely dangerous," said Rice.
The DOE is starting to restore routes as part of its "Get on Board" initiative. 350 students are riding school buses again in areas such as Aiea Heights, Halawa Heights and Waikele.
"It's extremely easier on all the parents up in this whole area that will be able to put their kids on the bus and get them to school every day and not have to worry," said Rice.
A $17-million shortfall in student transportation costs led to the cutbacks. An audit last year revealed that inefficiencies resulted in wasted money and resources.
"It was skyrocketing out of control. There was no disciplines to contracting, there was no disciplines to route management," explained Ray L'Heureux, assistant superintendent in the DOE's Office of School Facilities and Support Services.
The state is switching to buying buses for a block of time rather than paying per route. Another part of the initiative includes updating the contracting and procurement process. Officials are also turning to technology, including GPS tracking and routing software, to help save money.
"GPS, student tracking, how many kids are getting on and off that bus? Where does that bus stop? By the way, here's the density of all these kids. Where's the best place to coalesce and then pick them up?" said L'Heureux.
"We're very hopeful that this will result in a savings for not only the department, but more importantly, for the taxpayers," said Rep. K. Mark Takai (D-Aiea).
As for the students, Nicholas and Hayden agree that they prefer riding the bus instead of walking.
"Because you just have to sit and we're the only ones on the bus so it's nice and quiet in there," explained Nicholas.
"Because when it's walking, it takes like a long time," said Hayden.
The second phase will expand across Oahu during the next school year, and then statewide in 2015 - 2016.
Copyright 2013 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.