Consultants who came in late last year to help crack the problem say they've never seen anything like it: a budget, that in just six years, nearly tripled to $75 million.
They also found a system so antiquated, that data was being written down on index cards.
But that was then. Now the seeds of change are growing for a solution that’s finally hit the road.
“This is probably the largest geographic area in the state,” said Kealakehe High School vice principal Alan Vogt.
By simply tapping a coded card to a square pad, the students at Kealahehe on the Big Island became part of a pilot program to help solve a huge problem for the state.
“My honeymoon period for this was about two seconds,” said Ray L'Heureux.
When L’Heureux started as assistant superintendent in July 2012, the Department of Education was already dealing with a school bus system driving out of control -- with no clear path on how to fix it.
“How do we know which kids are registered for what buses, out of what schools, and actually getting on those buses? Nobody could provide me with those answers,” he said.
A scathing audit and consultants report found years of spotty data, staff unprepared to handle complex bus contracts, and no technology to track who was going where.
To save money, a desperate DOE suggested a four-day school week, staggering school start times to accommodate bus service, and even putting buses once considered too old to run back into circulation.