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VIEWPOINT: Ad regarding school bus service was self-serving and misleading

The beginning of every school year is a time of great excitement for students, parents and staff, that also brings new challenges to overcome. Each year, our bus contractors enable the safe delivery of approximately 40,000 students statewide every day. The Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) recognizes that for 383 of its students on Maui these expectations were not met as bus routes at Lahainaluna High, Baldwin High, and Iao Intermediate were temporarily suspended due to a shortage of school bus drivers. We thank our school families for their immense patience as we work to restore these suspended routes. In doing so, we want to address misinformation being spread in the Maui media that aims to create controversy and manipulate public sentiment.

A paid ad published by Roberts Hawaii in the Thursday edition of The Maui News suggests that it is suffering discrimination as a result of HIDOE’s handling of the bus driver shortage. This self-serving ad is deliberately misleading and obscures the company’s significant role in creating the problem.

HIDOE launched a major student transportation reform effort in 2013 that aimed to create better competition among school vendors and has saved more than $12 million over the last three years through better management of transportation costs. The previous services on Maui, operated by Roberts Hawaii, were among the most expensive services in the state and it was necessary to introduce a competitive process to reduce the amount of funding that was being diverted from classrooms to non-instructional services. The single Maui contract was split into four, covering different areas, which were awarded in strict accordance with state procurement process.

Roberts won the largest Maui contract, but lost the three others to a lower bidder, current contractor Ground Transport, Inc. Roberts then delayed the award process with protests to the Department of Commerce & Consumer Affairs and an appeal to Circuit Court. Both rulings found that HIDOE followed proper procedures and, after months of legal delays, Ground Transport purchased over 70 new buses, established base yards and all of its needed support operations on Maui, after 27 years serving Oahu.

When driver staffing levels showed that there would be a shortage in the Lahaina area that would impact routes, HIDOE, with the consent of Ground Transport, approached Roberts to assist, proposing a two-year contract at a higher pay rate. Roberts countered with demands for a seven-year contract at the higher rate, which would cost nearly five million dollars more than the current contract. HIDOE has a fiscal responsibility to spend taxpayer dollars prudently and meeting Roberts’ demands for that amount would have impacted HIDOE’s budget over many years and required Legislative approval. Roberts’ significant role in hindering the transition to the new contractor has directly contributed to and prolonged this situation.

We will continue to make every effort to reinstate the suspended services as quickly as possible. On Monday, Aug. 21, a major route will be restored at Lahainaluna High and we expect more routes to be restored in the coming weeks. Interested school bus drivers or anyone needing school bus information can contact the Get on Board Hotline at 808-586-0161. Bus vendors are willing to pay all of the costs for certification and many are offering signing bonuses.

The department is very grateful for patience and kokua shown by our parents, students and schools, and we hope that this information helps to provide a clearer picture of the reality behind the very misleading and self-serving Roberts Hawaii ad. Mahalo nui loa.

Dann Carlson

Dann Carlson is assistant superintendent of the Hawaii State Department of Education

The MAUIWatch Community Network invites readers to express their views in the Community Viewpoint. Community Viewpoint columns should be no more than 800 words. Community Viewpoint submissions are subject to editing. All submissions must include the writer’s full name, which will be printed. We do not print letters announcing events to come, extensive quotations from other material, open letters or form letters. Send to contact (at) mauiwatch (dot) com

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