Thirteen years ago an audit of the Student Transportation Services program under the Department of Accounting and General Services showed problems with rate setting, contract monitoring, and financial controls.
According to a report released Friday by State Auditor Marion Higa, those problems have only grown worse, especially after the school bus program was transferred to the Department of Education in July, 2000.
The 60-page document says school bus routes have not been evaluated for cost, efficiency or safety. There's also been little evaluation of more than 800 routes or how to possibly consolidate them. Meanwhile, a lack of contract oversight has resulted in rising costs.
"This validates what we've been saying all along, that our school bus transportation program had serious deficiencies; that it was not being run well," state Sen. Jill Tokuda, chair of the Education Committee, told KITV4.
Assistant School Superintendent Ray L'Heureux was hired eight weeks ago, and has been tapped as the point man to reform the school bus program. Although he takes issue with some of the harsh language contained in the auditor's report, he generally agrees with all of the findings.
"Nobody likes getting punched in the nose," he said, "but it's a valid audit."
According to the audit, the cost of Student Transportation Services has increased three-fold since 2006 to $72.4 million. During the past legislative session, the DOE requested $75 million to fund the program for the current school year, but lawmakers settled on $25 million.
The DOE was able to secure another $11.5 million from one-time funds, which brought the current cost of running school bus service to $36.5 million. However, the Board of Education was left scrambling and cut 74 routes, forcing more than 2,000 students to find alternative transportation.
"If those painful cuts can result in some significant changes today, and the results of this audit report can result in some real changes in the way we do Bus Transportation Services going forward, then we're going to be better for it," said Tokuda, who plans on holding a legislative briefing on Higa's findings.
In a written response to the audit, Schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said the DOE has already embarked on a course that will reform how school buses operate.