DOE eyes school bus cutbacks


POSTED: Sunday, September 13, 2009

Most Oahu high school students who ride a school bus will have to find other means of transportation next year.

The state Department of Education is planning to cut school bus service beginning Jan. 1 to Oahu high schoolers who have access to city bus service.

That cost-cutting measure will affect 1,500 to 2,000 students and save the state roughly $1.5 million, Assistant Superintendent Randy Moore said.

“;We don't look at it as a major undertaking,”; he said.

John Radcliffe, a lobbyist for the Hawaii School Bus Association, questioned whether the state will really be saving that much, since some buses carry students of different levels, such as those for Kahuku High and Intermediate School.

“;If they're not cutting the buses, and they are going to run from Point A to Point B anyway, where's the savings?”; he said, adding, “;Unless they're cutting bus routes.”;

The measure is one of several proposed programs and plans to reduce costs and make school operations more efficient.

Moore said he must still meet with the DOE transportation officers, and they must agree on the school bus routes to be terminated.

The Board of Education's approval is not required to pass the measure, and it has historically not gotten involved in decisions on where the bus routes go, Moore said.

However, Radcliffe said, “;Before this action is taken, there should be public hearings about this. Parents ought to be clued in.”;

Under current guidelines, the state provides bus service if a student's walk to school or to the bus stop is a mile or more. The board voted to change that to 1 1/2 miles for secondary school students.

That would reduce the number of students catching the bus and would result in cost savings.

So if a high school student's walk to school or to a bus stop is less than 1 1/2 miles, then the school bus route may be on the chopping block.

The proposal will not affect the 3,000 special-needs students who receive curb-to-curb bus service.

Statewide, between 35,000 and 40,000 students from kindergarten to 12th grade ride school buses, Moore said.

The state subsidizes 80 percent of the cost of school bus transportation for students at nearly $1,000 per student annually, he said.

In May, the board voted to allow school bus fares to be taken out of the administrative rules and allow the Department of Education to set the fares, subject to school board approval.

A proposal to raise bus fares will be presented Tuesday to the board.

Roger Morton, president and general manager of Oahu Transit Services Inc., which runs the city bus service, said most of the school buses run outside urban Honolulu.

“;I suspect that the impact would not be that great,”; he said. “;I would be doubtful we would be adding service,”; though a change in schedules may be made.