Board Members Want More Answers From Consultant's Bus Study

Nathan Eagle/Honolulu Civil Beat

Hawaii Board of Education members say they expected more from a much anticipated report on how the state should fix its nearly $75 million student transportation program.

The Hawaii Department of Education has come under increasing criticism for haphazard oversight and allowing bus costs to nearly double in just a few years.

Management Partnership Services, the consultant the Department of Education paid $109,000 to do the comprehensive study, told the board Tuesday that it needs to make "bold decisions" to fundamentally change its bus service system. The Maryland firm spent two months reviewing the program, including a nine-day visit to Hawaii.

Essentially, the consultant says the district should continue to contract with private companies to provide buses and drivers. But the state needs to take a stronger role in managing the routes, including how it tracks ridership, route selection and the bidding process.

But perhaps the biggest problem facing the state as it moves forward with the consultants' plan is the lack of critical data, even things as simple as who is getting on each bus and how often they are riding it.

Board members Brian De Lima and Jim Williams had to practically sidestep Chair Don Horner to get MPS' Tim Ammon and Tom Platt to answer their questions about why the 63-page report — which the DOE released Friday — lacked a more specific implementation plan and cost assessment.

After trying multiple times to ask the consultants what data they needed to help them provide a more detailed analysis, De Lima threw up his hands in frustration as Horner again sidetracked the questioning. Eventually, Williams was able to get De Lima's questions answered for him.

Part of the reason the data doesn't exist is the department is not collecting it in any consistent format right now, Ammon said.

"I don't mean to imply that we have no information and no data," Platt said. "What I do want to imply is we don't have the right information and data for you to be able to make difficult, impactful decisions on things such as bell times, which is going to impact your entire student population, not just that small portion that is riding the bus."

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