The State Office of the Auditor released a scathing report Friday that blasts the Department of Education for an ineffective and unsystematic management of student bus services that resulted in spiraling costs.
The report said general funds spent on student transportation nearly tripled to $72.4 million since 2006. The DOE's response included raising bus fares and reducing services by increasing the distances students must live from schools to quality for bus service.
State Auditor Marion Higa says the DOE has failed to adopt systematic planning that continuously evaluates routes to maximize ridership, maintains bus efficiency and ensure compliance with safety guidelines.
She also says changes that are made are not tracked, and bus stops are not evaluated for safety. This resulted in wasted state resources and potential for liability.
The report says the DOE lacks data needed to evaluate routes for cost efficiencies. According to DOE statistics, about 100 children are allocated to an individual route. The maximum capacity of a large school bus is 72 passengers.
Higa calls transportation officers, who are responsible for creating and monitoring routes to meet ridership, "ill-equipped" and and "under-qualified." She says they have not been provided comprehensive training, guidelines, or criteria for planning safe and efficient bus routes.
Although the department recognizes that it has not received competitive bus service bids in years and that follow-on bids for existing contracts have unjustifiably risen by as much as 259 percent, Higa says the DOE has not established a systematic approach to monitoring contractor performance.
The auditor also says the DOE has failed to flag potentially anticompetitive actions that may have contributed to rising costs.
The auditor's office found that nine of the ten contracts reviewed included a provision for the department compensate contractors for their general excise taxes. The report says the state is not liable for GET and it is illogical for the state to pay itself taxes. However, the DOE estimates it will pay more than $2 million in the 2012 school year for contractors' GET.
Click here to read the entire auditor's report.