Amid public outcry, Hawaii education officials on Tuesday announced that 29 school bus routes slated for elimination will now be spared. That means 400 fewer students will be left stranded without a ride to class.

The Hawaii Department of Education on Saturday said it would have to cut 103 routes affecting nearly 2,400 students.

The department’s updated list includes just 74 routes served by 91 buses. Half of the buses were eliminated through consolidations with other routes, half were discontinued altogether.

For most students, the school year begins on July 30.

Civil Beat has reported in its ongoing Taken for a Ride investigative series that school bus transportation costs have more than doubled in recent years, in part because bus companies abruptly stopped competing for contracts.

In an attempt to force the department to get serious about addressing the skyrocketing costs, the Legislature cut all funding for student transportation services for general education students two years ago. Then last session lawmakers only gave the department $25 million, leaving school officials with a $17 million puka.

The district has covered the shortfall by shifting funds from other sources, such as federal money that Hawaii receives because of the military’s presence.

The impact of diverting that cash from other programs and purposes remains unknown. Board members have asked the department to provide answers, but district officials have said they don’t know yet.

Some state representatives present at the Tuesday Board of Education meeting said they are pleased with the updates but are still worried that routes cut in their districts pose safety issues to affected riders.

The Legislature, in its budget bill, specifically required the district to consider safety in deciding which bus routes to cut.

Former Assistant Superintendent Randy Moore, who retired Friday, has said that safety is “relative.”

Rep. Sharon Har, who represents the Makakilo, Kunia and Kapolei areas, testified that many elementary school children living in her district will now have to cross a four-lane highway to get to school.

“We’re asking unsupervised elementary school kids to have to cross one of the busiest intersections in the town of Kapolei,” she said. “Everyday I get calls from parents who are very upset because of the lack of crosswalks. Please reconsider these particular walks. Our schools have not been able to keep up with the growth.”

Rep. Marilyn Lee, whose district includes Mililani and Mililani Mauka, said she thought that the new student transportation program, provided at the board meeting, appeared to contain substantial improvements. But she testified that her primary concern is children’s safety — particularly when crossing busy intersections or catching rides with teenage drivers.

Noting that former Honolulu Police Chief Michael Nakamura died in 2006 when crossing a Mililani intersection, Lee thanked the Board for retaining many of the routes serving children in those areas. The original cuts would have affected more than 800 students in Mililani. By Tuesday, the department had found ways to restore service to all but about 100.

Still, other lawmakers pointed out that routes previously on the “safe list” are now on the chopping block.

Rep. Mark Takai, who was instrumental in the DOE’s decision to use federal Impact Aid money to close the budget gap, said that 18 routes that had been on that list are now being cut.

“Children cannot learn without being in school,” he said. “Many will not attend school if they can’t go in buses.”

Takai represents the district that includes Newtown, Waiau, Pearl City and Waimalu.

Board of Education Chair Don Horner and DOE Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi apologized for the delays in communication. Har in her testimony had noted that students in some multi-track — or year-round — schools were given less than 10-days notice that they would have to seek alternative transportation.

Department officials announced late Tuesday that all year-round schools — Mililani Middle and Kapolei Elementary and Middle — will continue to receive regular bus service through July 27. Visit to see an updated list of affected schools.

“We could’ve been more timely in communicating with those affected,” said Horner.

It’s worth noting that the board has been considering specific route cuts since April. Outcry from lawmakers was absent until the board’s June meeting.

Horner and Matayoshi also said that the Department will continue to work on minimizing the number of students affected by bus route cuts.

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