Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie attended the Board of Education meeting Tuesday and signed two bills designed to bring down the inordinately high cost of transporting public school students in the island state. Senate bills 1082 and 1083, which take effect immediately, allow the Board and Department of Education (DOE) more flexibility in managing school bus contracting and procurement.
“These measures will help to control the escalating cost of student transportation,” Abercrombie said. “These laws were established with the cooperation of the BOE and DOE, which will provide more control for fiscal responsibility.”
It has been one year since retired Marine Corps Col. Ray L'Heureux took the reins of the DOE’s Student Transportation Services Branch and commissioned Management Partnership Services Inc. (MPS) of Maryland to conduct an in-depth study of its out-of-control school bus operations.
The newly enacted measures reflect key recommendations included in that final report, which found that Hawaii spends about $1,750 for every student rider — much more than national norms. It also found that school bus contractor costs skyrocketed between 2006 and 2010, even as service levels dropped, primarily because of contractors’ rate increases.
Now, SB 1082 provides the DOE with a tool to control these escalating costs by revising the competitive procurement process. MPS had identified problems in the current request to bid process as well as geographic problems inherent to Hawaii that have constricted competition among bus contractors for several years.
“In order for them to overcome inherent problems with geography, they need to focus on time frames and time lines in the contracting process,” Ammon told STN earlier this year.
Amendments to Section 3 include a new provision requiring the contractor to equip its school vehicles with the signs and visual signals mandated by state law, and another requiring that all monies received from district families for state-provided bus transport be deposited into the school bus fare revolving fund.
Under SB 1083, the DOE will not need to require contractors to certify that they pay the same wages as public officers and employees. The bill states that the MPS report cited statutory compensation requirements as a constraint on contracting for bus services. It also noted that “removing this requirement will stimulate competitive bidding, which will help to reduce escalating transportation costs.”
“These bills help the department in its move to improve the efficiency and control the cost of the student bus transportation system,” said Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi.