After gaining approval by the Senate Ways and Means Committee last month, a bill by the Hawaii Department of Education to increase its control over school bus contracts appears likely to gain the legislature's support. SB 1082 would restructure contracting policies and procedures to bring down student transportation costs among the highest in the nation.
This change is one of the many recommendations contained in the Student Bus Transportation Study Final Report the DOE presented to the Board of Education in December. According to the report, bus contractor costs skyrocketed from FY2006 to FY2010, while service levels dropped, largely because of contractors' rate increases.
DOE officials said the new measure would stimulate competition among the dozen or so bus companies operating in the island state.
Prior to the WAM hearing Feb. 21, key officials gave the measure their blessing. Board Chairman Don G. Horner provided testimony in support of SB 1082, "Relating to Transportation of School Children."
"The Board supports this measure as we believe it will allow the Department to more effectively manage the contracting process, which will in turn assist the Department in managing the provision of services and cost," Horner said.
In her comments to the WAM Committee, Jan Yamane, acting state auditor, noted that the bill made reference to a report by her department titled "Management Audit of the Department of Education's School Bus Transportation Services," which found that ineffective and unsystematic management of student bus services had resulted in spiraling costs.
"Although our recommendations did not include amendments to the Department of Education's statutory provisions, we appreciate the Legislature's initiative to improve the department's student bus service contracting process by way of this bill," Yamane added.
Amendments to Section 3 include a new provision requiring the contractor to equip its school vehicles with the signs and visual signals mandated by the current law. Another amendment states that all monies received from district families for state-provided school busing services shall be deposited into the school bus fare revolving fund. The bill states this Act would take effect as soon as it gets final approval.