School Bus Services Face Cuts
This fall, Molokai High and Middle School students who ride the bus daily may need to figure out another way to get to school. The state Department of Education (DOE) is expecting its student transportation budget to be cut in half for the upcoming school year — a shortfall of about $20 million.
“For Molokai, it is likely that we will not be able to provide bus services for students going to middle and high school,” said Randy Moore, Assistant Superintendent for facilities and support services. “We are looking on a route-by-route basis to see if we can continue to run a bus from the far ends of the island like Maunaloa and east end.”
For parents, that would mean finding alternate modes of transportation to get their kids to and from school.
“I typically start work quite early and I will probably have to change my work schedule or offer gas money to someone in my neighborhood who works at the middle school,” said Kimberly Svetin, whose son is in seventh grade at Molokai Middle School. “Right now, the middle school has over 97 percent attendance,” she said. “I’m concerned that we are going to see those numbers decline because we will not have tenable transportation.”
DOE officials presented the Board of Education’s Finance and Infrastructure Committee with a proposed plan to deal with the reduced budget last week, according to Moore. The Committee will make their own recommendations, which will go to the full board for a final vote in early May.
The DOE has been exploring possible alternatives to accommodate the budget cuts, including combining bus services for both elementary and high schools and discontinuing transportation services for students who live within a three-mile radius of the school. However, these alone will not be enough to offset the shortage in funds, according to Moore.
“The DOE does not think this program is a good idea, but if you only have so much money, you only have so much money,” said Moore.
Molokai Middle and High School currently spend a combined total of $590,000 per school year on bus services. The state appropriates $42 million total for all of Hawaii, according to Moore.
Once services are suspended, the DOE will either cancel their contract with bus companies, or pay an “idle bus charge,” a fee the DOE will have to pay private bus companies to keep the buses on the island, according to Moore.
Moana Dudoit, owner of Dudoit’s Bus Service, currently has four buses that service the Middle and High School –two that run from Maunaloa and two from the east end. She is concerned about what these cuts may mean for her business.
“We still have to pay off the cost of the buses, and if the state cuts our routes, then I don’t know what other bus companies with a big debt will do,” she said. “We want what’s right for us and what’s right for the kids.”
Elementary schools and special-needs bus services will likely continue without interruption, according to Moore.
Molokai students and parents received a notice from the DOE last Friday about the transportation service cuts for next school year. However, this notice was released prematurely and should be used only as a reference, said Sandra Goya, DOE communication director.
“[The DOE will] review and consider the potential impact of implementing internal restrictions for non-school level funding as well as repurposing other funds for student transportation costs,” Goya wrote in an e-mail.
“No decisions have yet been made,” she added. “There will be an update in May.”
“Money has to be cut from the budget,” said middle school principal Gary Davidson. “The DOE is trying its best to do it in a way that doesn’t harm children but they don’t have a choice.” He urges parents to talk to legislators because “they are the ones that are making the decisions.”
Molokai High principal Stan Hao did not return calls for comment.
Moore urges parents and residents to e-mail any questions, concerns or suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.