The ax has fallen on school bus routes. The Hawaii Department of Education had to find some way to plug a transportation budget shortfall. And now lawmakers are squawking.

First out of the gate was Rep. Mark Takai, who had an intriguing idea for how to make up the shortfall: Get the governor to pay for it using his emergency powers.

Takai sent a letter to Gov. Neil Abercrombie Sunday asking him to invoke emergency powers to make sure 2,380 students aren’t left scrambling to find another ride to school.

Rep. Marilyn Lee lashed out as well, attacking the plan from a safety angle.

But are they missing the point? The real questions are why have school bus costs risen so sharply in recent years? And what is the department doing about it?

Throwing money at the problem might help treat the fiscal symptoms, but doesn’t get at the root causes. Outgoing Assistant Superintendent Randy Moore told Civil Beat this weekend that the district can expect another $10 million transportation shortfall next year.

There is and has been for years a reluctance to actually address the real problem.

Civil Beat has reported in our ongoing Taken For a Ride series that the state has done next to nothing to stop runaway bus costs. Bus companies abruptly stopped competing with each other for contracts, and rather than reject or negotiate bids to hold down costs, district officials shifted the burden to parents, kids and taxpayers.

Meantime, the FBI had been investigating school bus companies for possible collusion in setting prices, but no word on whether it still is.

To the department’s credit, it is in the process of hiring an independent consultant to review the books. But there won’t be an answer until December.

District officials are also expecting answers from a state audit by the end of summer.

But it’s too little, too late for this school year. And parents have only the district to blame.

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