HONOLULU - Hawaii's Department of Education has "lost control" of its student transportation program, according to a state audit on school bus services released Friday.
The audit blasts education officials for "ineffective and unsystematic" management that has resulted in spiraling costs. Money spent on student transportation has nearly tripled to $72.4 million since 2006.
State Auditor Marion Higa's report came as dozens of routes were eliminated or consolidated this school year because of a $17 million shortfall for student transportation. The report examined the period from July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2011.
"The audit quite frankly comes as no surprise," said Ray L'Heureux, the assistant superintendent for the office of school facilities and support services, who has been on the job for about eight weeks. "Most of the findings were fairly valid."
Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi wrote a letter to the auditor acknowledging that the department's past methods may not have been consistent with nationally recognized best practices.
The wide-ranging audit addresses concerns from the safety of bus stops to training of transportation officers to procurement practices.
"Ineffective planning for bus services has resulted in routes that are not evaluated for cost, efficiency or adherence to safety guidelines," the report found. "Unsystematic oversight of bus service contracts has resulted in escalating costs and lack of accountability."
The audit highlighted concerns about anti-competitive contract bids, noting that in one instance, multiple bids were received on only one of 48 groups of solicited routes that auditors reviewed. The department failed to "justify that eight out of 10 contracts . . . awarded to sole bidders were fair and reasonable," it said.
The report said there is no process for evaluating the safety of bus stops and that they evolve where children congregate.
"I'm not quite sure how they validated that," L'Heureux said. "The safe transportation of students is always going to be paramount."
State Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Jill Tokuda said the report validates what the Legislature has been calling attention to: "All of these things, we've pointed out year after year."