The Buck Stops Here” read the sign on President Harry Truman’s White House desk.

In 1953, when Truman gave his farewell speech as president, he said of the person in the nation’s top job: “He can’t pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That’s his job.”

This is the kind of important lesson about leadership Hawaii high school students are supposed to learn in school.

But apparently the principle doesn’t hold true for the person in the top job at the Hawaii Department of Education.

Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi is teaching her children a different lesson.

Asked Tuesday about Civil Beat’s series, “Taken for a Ride,” which chronicles how runaway school bus costs have burned up millions of dollars that could have gone to classrooms, she told our Katherine Poythress: “I haven’t read it.”

OK. She’s a busy person. That’s understandable.

But it’s no secret to the department’s leadership that school bus costs are a big problem. The Legislature is so fed up that it removed all money for regular school transportation from next year’s budget and said it would only put it back if the district came up with a plan to keep costs down.

Nothing to say?

“I’m not that involved in contract negotiations,” she told Katherine. “Talk to Randy (Moore). He’s the one who handles all of that.”

Civil Beat talked to Moore for its series. He’s the assistant superintendent in charge of such matters. He’s been helpful and forthcoming.

But the buck stops with Matayoshi. And the series makes clear that as much as the district might like to say it’s done what it could to keep costs down, it hasn’t done much, except make students, parents and all taxpayers pay.

The superintendent talks about the importance of Hawaii getting federal Race to the Top dollars, $75 million over four years. The district spends $72 million — every year — on school bus services. That figure was $47 million the last time at least one contract was bid competitively.

Yet she doesn’t seem to want to address why the district has let itself be taken for a ride.

The Hawaii Department of Education has accepted a lack of competitive bids for four years. It’s seen transportation costs as a percentage of the total budget increase from 1.5 percent to 4.2 percent. Yet in that time it’s not rejected a single contract or tried to negotiate one.

Instead of teaching students that if you keep your head in the sand a problem might go away, it’s time Matayoshi teach them that Harry Truman had it right.

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