The Department of Education has made most of the changes to its bus system that were recommended in a scathing audit six years ago.

The State Auditor’s office found in 2012 that the DOE had an ineffective bus management system, too many routes and a broken procurement process that allowed transportation costs to climb while the department did nothing to address a lack of competitive bidding.

The DOE has implemented 17 of the auditor’s 19 recommendations related to its Student Transportation Services branch, according to a report released Thursday.

A State Auditor’s report says that the Department of Education has implemented most of its recommendations related to the school bus system.

Not all of the auditor’s recommendations have been implemented, however. The two that have not been are important, but not applicable at this time, the report said.

One recommendation involves ensuring the Student Transportation Services branch conducts an analysis determining the fairness of single-bid offers before accepting them. But the auditor notes in the report that the department has issued two new contracts since its audit and both received multiple proposals from vendors, so it wasn’t possible to do an analysis of a single-bid proposal.

The other recommendation involved developing policies to report anticompetitive business practices related to issuing bus contracts. However, that doesn’t mean the DOE is avoiding the issue, the report said.

“The department is making structural changes to mitigate risk,” the report said.

In a statement issued Friday, the DOE said it was pleased with the report.

“The latest auditor’s report validates all of the hard work that has gone into redesigning our Student Transportation Services branch to better serve our students and families,” said Assistant Superintendent Dann Carlson.

He added that the department has reduced transportation costs by $12 million a year.

Civil Beat unearthed the department’s contract issues and skyrocketing expenses in its 2011 series, Taken For A Ride.

It learned that an FBI investigation was conducted into possible collusion by bus contractors.

In 2012, the DOE paid Management Partnership Services $109,000 to conduct a study of the bus system problems.

That same year, the auditor’s office, led at the time by Marion Higa, cracked down on school officials for ineffective and unsystematic management, citing a failure to even evaluate the district’s own route on the Big Island, let alone the rest of the ones it contracted out.

“The department’s haphazard oversight of school bus contracts has resulted in a lack of competition among bidders, spiraling bus services contract costs, and questionable accountability among the department’s branches and its contractors,” Higa said in the 2012 audit.

By 2013, student transportation costs had nearly tripled to $72 million since 2006.

Taken For A Ride

The auditor followed up in 2015, finding about half of its recommendations implemented at that point.

Now, the department has implemented recommendations to help streamline bus services, including new software and shoring up procurement policies, among others.

Those include having the Student Transportation Services branch manager monitor contractors’ performance and do spot checks to ensure they’re providing the agreed-upon service and equipment.

The DOE has also now implemented recommendations related to training programs for district transportation officers and restructuring contracts to include specific performance requirements, including the collection of data to analyze whether the bid was fair.

The DOE has also fully implemented a recommendation to have the transportation branch maintain complete contract files, including complaints and correspondence.

Read the audit report below.

DOE Bus Audit (Text)

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