POSTED: 10:44 a.m. HST, Aug 31, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 12:27 p.m. HST, Aug 31, 2012
Ineffective planning and “unsystematic” oversight at the Department of Education allowed the costs of providing school bus service to students to skyrocket over the last five years, the state auditor’s office said in a new report.
“The Department of Education has lost control of its student transportation program,” the report concluded. “We found that the department has failed to identify and address anticompetitive behavior among contractors and allowed costs for school bus services to escalate unjustifiably.”
Since 2006, according to the audit, general funds spent on student transportation nearly tripled to $72.4 million.
In its response to the audit, the DOE acknowledged some of its past practices led to rising costs and cited examples of recent efforts to bring down the pricetag for student transportation.
“The DOE acknowledges that there is much more work to be done to protect public transportation funds and improve public confidence,” schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said, in a response letter to the state auditor.
Among the concerns state auditor Marion Higa raised in the report:
>> The DOE does not adequately plan for student transportation needs, and does not have a system of evaluating routes for cost efficiency;
>> Bus routes are rarely changed and changes made are not tracked to ensure they are benefitting students or the department;
>> The department lacks data to evaluate routes for cost savings;
>> DOE transportation officers are “ill-equipped and under-qualified” for the scope and amount of work they are expected to perform;
>> The DOE’s procurement practices for bus contracts violate the “spirit” of state procurement law.
The audit comes in the wake of cuts to school bus service this school year. Service to some 2,000 students was slashed, in the first major cut to school bus service. Also in recent years, the DOE has increased bus fares and cut routes to save money.
The cuts to school bus service will be discussed at the Board of Education’s meeting Tuesday.
To read the audit, go to http://www.state.hi.us/auditor/Years/2012reports.htm