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Wednesday, May 10, 2000

Deficit may
force school bus
fares to rise

A change in the distance
requirement is another
option open to officials

By Crystal Kua


The cost of riding the school bus may be going up.

Or fewer students may be eligible to ride the bus because officials may change distance requirements.

Or look for a new school bus fare pass.

These are among the options the Department of Education is looking at when it takes over the school bus transportation program, which has a $1 million to $1.5 million deficit.

Currently, students pay 25 cents one way to ride the bus. Students who live a mile or more from school are qualified for bus transportation.

The department has known since late last year that the school bus transportation program would be transferred from the Department of Accounting and General Services to the Department of Education.

Officials, however, had hoped the transfer would be delayed until next year. The department also wanted the program to be transferred without a deficit.

But the Legislature this past session decided that the transfer of the school bus program would occur July 1 and include the program's 10 employees and $21.2 million budget, which is not enough to cover an anticipated deficit.

Officials say school bus transportation under the Department of Accounting and General Services has been running in the red for the past three fiscal years.

The reasons include a wage increase for contract bus drivers of $1 million; rising fuel costs of $200,000; an increase of special-education students, who require more expensive curb-to-curb service; and multiple bus schedules because of the differing starting and ending times of schools.

State schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu said an anticipated increase in federal funding for special-education programs could possibly help offset the deficit.

The department is expected to present a plan to the board next month.

Paula Yoshioka, Department of Education assistant superintendent of business services, said some options may require a change in administrative rules, which could take six months to a year to accomplish. That means the department would have to find some way to offset the deficit in the meantime, and it's not known if other programs would be affected, she said.

But board members were concerned about the effect the options would have on bus riders.

Board member Michael Victorino of Maui worried aloud about changing the distance requirements on neighbor islands where there is a lack of public transportation. "That will be a real strain ... on people picking up kids," Victorino said.

E-mail to City Desk

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