Taking the high road sometimes requires a painful, introspective look at yourself and how you can improve.  The Hawaii State Department of Education (DOE) earlier this year embarked on a journey of self-introspection, specifically of our school bus transportation system and how we manage it.

When I arrived to the DOE in early July, measures were already being taken to streamline routes, as well as commission a study to find out how and why costs had gone through the roof in recent years.   As stewards for Hawaii’s taxpayers – many of whom are our students’ parents – it was critical for us to investigate how we could better serve our communities.  

We have already taken important steps to increase efficiencies and cut costs, including:

  • Embedding procurement excellence by centralizing our procurement process.
  • Becoming a member of the National Association for Pupil Transportation to keep up with the industry’s best practices.  
  • Testing systems of technology that will bring efficiencies to route management and rider tracking for current and future student transportation needs.

Most recently, along with the Board of Education (BOE), we hired Management Partnership Services (MPS) to analyze our bus network, and make recommendations for improvement.  This thorough review was necessary to clearly identify missteps taken over the years so that they are not repeated.

More than 55 contracts expire this month, creating an opportunity for us to correct what has gone wrong for too long.  We will be toughening up qualifications for contractors and be more diligent in managing services provided. We presented MPS’ findings before the BOE and a joint state House-Senate informational briefing. Both bodies are critical to approving the changes that the Department intends to make.

The DOE is now in the second year of a seven-year strategic plan, which focuses on preparing students for college, careers and citizenship.  Bus transportation is much more than finding the best value for the state. It is a vital part of getting our students into their classrooms efficiently, safely and on a timely basis.  

The DOE’s school bus transportation system serves more than 35,000 students annually through 700 buses operated by 12 contractors on five islands: Kauai, Oahu, Maui, Molokai and Hawaii Island. In late June, the DOE announced more than 100 bus routes were being eliminated due to rising costs and a loss of funding. The DOE streamlined services and restored a number of routes, but was unable to restore all of them. In all, more than 2,300 students at 51 different schools were affected.

As we work towards improving the system and bus routes, we are prioritizing our efforts in communities that were affected more severely than others by previous route eliminations.  Additionally, we are streamlining the bell schedules at schools to maximize routes and ridership.

It should be noted that there is no magic bullet and change isn’t going to happen overnight, but the public can be assured that the DOE is committed to implementing change that will result in better value and service for our communities.

About the author: Raymond L’Heureux has served as assistant superintendent for the Hawaii State Department of Education’s Office of School Facilities and Support Services since July. Before retiring as a colonel from the United States Marine Corps, he served at U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific at Camp Smith, which has oversight of 18 bases and stations in the Pacific.

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