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Lawmakers decry Hawaii school bus cuts

July 4, 2012
The Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) - Some Hawaii lawmakers are calling for the state Department of Education to rethink school bus cuts that will affect thousands of students.

Nearly 2,400 students statewide will be affected by the cuts, leaving parents scrambling to make plans before the upcoming school year. Most public schools return from summer break in about a month. But multitrack schools return Monday. Three multitrack schools - Mililani Middle, Kapolei Elementary and Kapolei Middle - have routes that will be eliminated.

Public school officials announced late Tuesday that bus service would be extended to multi-track schools through July 27.

Hawaii's statewide school district said the 103 route eliminations and consolidations are necessary in light of a $17 million shortfall for student transportation. The cuts will save about $5.5 million.

Maui County is the least affected by the school bus cutbacks. Only 30 students on Maui - those from Iao Valley and Wailuku Heights - will not have bus service, officials announced Monday. Molokai students are not affected, and there is no bus service on Lanai.

State Rep. K. Mark Takai had asked the governor to use his "emergency powers" for a solution.

But Gov. Neil Abercrombie responded by saying he has no plans to step in to restore service, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Tuesday.

"First, as governor, I do not have unlimited authority to declare an emergency for any matter I choose," Abercrombie wrote in a letter to Takai. "The Legislature had ample opportunity to address it."

He wrote that asking for "extraordinary administrative intervention" is inappropriate given that Takai voted to fund student transportation at the current amount.

"I'm disappointed that Governor Abercrombie has chosen not to help our students," Takai said in response to the letter. "Finger-pointing and blame do not get our kids back to school."

State Rep. Marilyn Lee represents Mililani and Mililani Mauka, which are among the hardest-hit. Lee said that she found out about the cuts by reading the newspaper over the weekend and that she's disappointed the education department didn't notify the Legislature on the final cuts.

"Some of the cuts in my district show a lack of understanding of the impacts to the students, and if this is true in other areas, I think the DOE should rethink some of their decisions," she said.

"The amount of time they have given parents to work out other transportation arrangements is unrealistic and unacceptable," said state Rep. Sharon Har.

Halawa Heights parent Laurie Moore said that eliminating her kids' route will force them to walk on hilly streets with no sidewalks.

The Board of Education was expected to discuss the cuts at a meeting Tuesday.



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