About 4,700 Maui County public school students could see their bus service ended next school year under a state Department of Education plan to deal with bills currently wending their way through the state Legislature that could lead to significant funding shortfalls.
On Tuesday, the DOE presented the Board of Education's Finance and Infrastructure Committee with a proposed plan to deal with a possible shortfall. The plan included a priority list of bus services based on need.
First on the chopping block would be Oahu intermediate and high schools outside of Nanakuli and Waianae.
Baldwin High School students walk to buses in the school’s parking lot Wednesday afternoon.
The Maui News / BRIAN PERRY photo
Second would be Neighbor Island urban secondary schools - including Iao and Maui Waena intermediate and Baldwin High schools, said Randy Moore, assistant superintendent for facilities and support services, on Wednesday.
If the Maui County cuts go through in their current form, Iao Intermediate Principal Catherine Kilborn said that the loss of bus service "would impact quite a few kids."
Iao Intermediate has students from Wailuku, Paukukalo, Waihee and as far away as Kahakuloa, she said.
"They are a significant distance from the school, so we would be quite impacted by that decision," Kilborn added.
She said that parents would probably have to make adjustments to their work schedules and have to look into carpooling.
The Iao principal expressed concern about the situation but noted that things have not been finalized. She was confident that the DOE would look into all options in coming up with a final plan.
No action was taken on the proposed plan Tuesday. The committee, the full board and the DOE are awaiting the outcome of the legislative session to see exactly how much money they will get for student transportation, Moore said.
The DOE has asked the Legislature for $42 million for student transportation. Currently, the Senate is looking at appropriating $23 million, and the House, $20.3 million, Moore said.
Both sides need to come to an agreement on a number, but current bills appropriate only about half of the DOE request for student transportation. There also is a budget proviso that prevents the DOE from shifting funds from other programs to assist with school bus services, Moore said.
If only $20 million was appropriated for regular bus service and no other funds were available, about 4,700 Maui County students who currently ride the school bus would lose their service. The cuts could affect Central Maui schools Wailuku, Pomaikai, Lihikai and Kahului elementary. Even schools such as Kalama, Lahaina and Lokelani intermediate and King Kekaulike, Lahainaluna and Maui High would see cuts.
Hana high schoolers and Molokai middle and high students also could see their bus service ended, according to a list from the DOE.
Special-needs students will be untouched and will still receive their curb-to-curb service, Moore said.
The DOE would make it a priority to keep regular bus service for elementary schools in South Hawaii, which is a zone that has the most "challenged schools" based on the federal No Child Left Behind Act that measures student academic progress, Moore said.
The next priority would be to maintain service for secondary schools in South Hawaii, and third priority would go to keeping bus service for Leeward Oahu elementary schools.
Fourth on the protection list is keeping bus service for Neighbor Island rural elementary schools. In Maui County, that could include schools that feed into Lahainaluna, Hana, King Kekaulike and Molokai high schools, Moore said. Other rural elementary schools on this list would be Waihee and Kihei and Kamalii elementary.
Lanai doesn't have school bus service.
Personally, the assistant superintendent said, he prefers students riding the school bus. It's the safest way to get to school, and is safer than walking, bicycling or catching a ride with family, he said.
Another repercussion of cuts to bus service would be the possibility of increased traffic, with more parents using their vehicles to drive their children to school, he said.
The Board of Education committee and the full board will take up the issue again in early May after the legislative session, Moore said.
In the meantime, the DOE is looking into ways to save money, such as working with transportation companies, studying bus routes and making adjustments where possible, as well as tweaking its proposal to the BOE.
Even if the DOE gets all of the money it has requested, Moore said operational changes still need to be made to reduce costs. For example, Molokai elementary and high school students will share one bus next school year. Currently, they have separate buses, and only one bus is actually needed, Moore said.
Those with comments on the proposed plans may email Moore at Randy_Moore/OSFSS/HIDOE@notes.k12.hi.us.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org