Several Kula parents were overjoyed Wednesday after learning their children would no longer need to walk along narrow and busy roadsides and wait at "unsafe" bus stops to take the public school bus to Kula Elementary School.
"I'm feeling great," said Kula parent Mindy Fletcher-Sistar, who with other parents, including Rachel Ball Phillips, have been trying to remedy the situation for more than a month since their old school bus route was eliminated in budget cuts.
With the loss of their route, the children were sent to a different bus route. And, getting to their bus stop required them to walk down narrow Upper Kimo Drive for one bus stop and, in another case, children had to cross Haleakala Highway to get to another designated bus stop at Kula Lodge.
A van moves to the middle of the road to avoid Mayor Alan Arakawa (front to back), state Rep. Kyle Yamashita, mayoral Executive Assistant Mike Molina and community police officer Marjorie Kaho‘okele, who were walking along Haleakala Highway on Tuesday morning. The officials were taking the same footpath that students take to and from their public school bus route near Upper Kimo Drive. State and Roberts Hawaii officials agreed to provide the children with a safer, more convenient school bus stop.
ROD ANTONE photo
The students' paths to the bus stops did not have sidewalks.
Both mothers credited Mayor Alan Arakawa, Executive Assistant Mike Molina and other county officials, including Council Member Gladys Baisa for helping to advocate the children's case with state officials. Now, the school bus will soon pick up the students at a safer and more convenient location on Upper Kimo Drive.
"I'm so happy. Our main concern was for the safety of our children," Phillips said. "That was my goal. I'm happy our cries for help have been heard."
Fletcher-Sistar added: "Honestly, none of this could have happened without the mayor. The mayor was just awesome. Honestly, I'm really impressed, (the) county officials, they did an awesome job. They are the ones that made it happen."
Phillips also thanked state Rep. Kyle Yamashita, who did a site visit to the area with other officials Tuesday morning.
In fact, the parents organized two site visits - one in August and the other on Tuesday with state and county officials and even wrote to Gov. Neil Abercrombie to get the situation resolved.
Although Fletcher-Sistar was happy of the result, she said: "I'm just concerned (the state Department of Education) won't go through with it."
On Wednesday afternoon, Bruce Anderson, the DOE's superintendent for the Baldwin-Kekaulike-Maui complex, confirmed that the bus service to the affected neighborhood would resume in October.
He said funding and safety issues regarding a bus turn around in the Kimo Drive area have been resolved.
"We're happy that it worked out," he said. "It gave us a good opportunity to work with our elected officials and our contractor, which is Roberts, and our own DOE personnel who had been (already) working on this issue. That's the main thing. We all worked together."
According to Maui County spokesman Rod Antone, Arakawa visited the bus stop and the path the students had to walk on Tuesday, and the mayor called Roberts Hawaii to explain the situation. Roberts agreed that something needed to be done, he said.
Antone said Arakawa described the situation as "dangerous."
Antone quoted Arakawa as saying: "The cars speed much too fast. It's not safe for the kids to be walking in that area; (it) makes much more sense for them to be picked up."
Prior to the situation being resolved, Fletcher-Sistar, who has two boys who ride the public school bus to get to Kula Elementary School said: "My biggest concern I want the public to understand; if nothing is done about this, my fear is a child will die or get gravely injured."
She said her two boys, who are 7 and 9 years old, walked a mile to the bus stop. But now her 7-year-old, who suffers from autism and is bipolar, can ride a special needs bus that pulls up to her home. But her 9-year-old son still had to make the trip down the road to catch the bus.
Phillips, who also has a son who rides the bus, said Upper Kimo Drive doesn't have regular shoulders, and "there is no real safe place" for children to walk.
"It's a winding road as well. There is poor visibility," Phillips added.
She said motorists often speed in the area. Parents said there are eight children from the ages of 6 to 10 years old who were affected by the cut in service.
The women said they were notified at the last minute before this school year started that their children's bus route, which used to have the bus stopping in their neighborhood, would be cut, and the children would have to catch the bus elsewhere.
Fletcher-Sistar said she was worried about her children and others waiting at what she called unsafe bus stops at the bottom of Upper Kimo Drive, where there is no room for them to wait and at the other bus stop at Kula Lodge, where there is also a lot of commercial traffic.
Fletcher-Sistar said she would wait with the children until the bus picked them up, making her late for work in Wailuku.
She said that thankfully she has an understanding boss and could make up her lost time.
She added that her children use the bus service so they can get to school on time and she can get to work on time.
Phillips said she has her son take the bus because "the state always encourages parents to utilize the bus to avoid congestion on the road."
She added that with children taking the bus it also eliminates congestion at the school.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.