Laupahoehoe charter school seeks hybrid bus


Tease: For more information on the efforts to raise funds for Laupahoehoe’s new hybrid school bus, see Saturday’s Community page in the Tribune-Herald.

By COLIN M. STEWART

Tribune-Herald staff writer

Laupahoehoe Community Public Charter School hopes to blaze a trail by becoming the first publicly funded school in the state to utilize hybrid buses.

The effort to buy at least one Thomas Built Saf-T-Liner C2e hybrid bus comes partly out of necessity, and partly out of the school’s mission to incorporate lessons about the environment and sustainability into its students’ daily lives, said school Director David Rizor.

“It started out just being a financial concern, though,” he said.

As a conversion charter school in its first year of operation, Laupahoehoe has been able to receive funding from the state to operate two buses to transport approximately 100 kids, or half the school’s population, to and from the building every day, he said. The school currently receives $144,000 a year for transportation.

But next year, Laupahoehoe will be on its own and must dip into its own operations funding to get keiki to and from school. The bus company with which the school currently contracts, Akita Enterprises, has provided a quote for next year’s operations of $151,000.

“That’s just money out the door,” said Shannon Mann, the school’s finance manager. Instead, Laupahoehoe is looking to purchase at least one hybrid bus at a cost of approximately $175,000, which would provide savings within a few short years, she said.

“It’s a no-brainer,” she said.

Organizers have been in contact with Big Island business Pacific Biodiesel to provide the fuel for the school’s transportation program, which would ensure that the funds stay here on the island, she added. A look a Pacific’s prices shows that the pump located in Shipman Park in Keaau charged $4.94 a gallon for diesel in December, $4.79 a gallon for 20 percent biodiesel, and $4.69 a gallon for 100 percent biodiesel.

The state of Kentucky, which transports its children using 160 of the hybrid buses — the largest such fleet in the nation — has reported a 34 percent reduction in fuel use as a result, according to the Kentucky Clean Fuels Coalition.

The buses will also make a good fit with Laupahoehoe due to the area’s hilly geography, Rizor added. Whenever the brakes are applied, electricity is generated and stored in the hybrid’s batteries. The bus then uses that stored energy when the throttle is depressed, resulting in the engine not working as hard and the release of fewer emissions.

“The bus will rarely get up to high speeds here,” he said, “but there will be plenty of places where it will be decelerating because of the hills.”

In addition to the savings, Rizor said, the plan fits right in with the school’s overall focus for its students.

“It’s much more financially feasible for us to get our own buses, and it exemplifies the philosophy of the school. We teach the kids to respect the aina by not using so much fuel, by cutting down on pollution, by being more aware of our resources,” he said. “We’re also starting a number of programs looking at the energy use and waste at the school, and trying to reduce that. And we’re implementing agriculture programs — we want our kids to learn how to grow food for themselves here in Hawaii.”

Currently, the school is pursuing several different transportation options, including buying two hybrid buses, or buying one regular bus and one hybrid. Much depends on how much money the school’s nonprofit organization, Hui Kaka‘o O Laupahoehoe, can raise in funding, said the nonprofit’s president, Holly Young.

“There’s inequity in the system … with no transportation funds allocated to charters. … But that shouldn’t even be the point. We’re taking our kids’ education into our own hands,” she said. “This vision for the bus, it’s part of our mission. To be leaders, to show the rest of Hawaii how it can work. This kind of change in transportation, it should have been happening already.”

The nonprofit’s two-year fund-raising plan seeks $175,000 for the first bus, with the purchase of a second bus a possibility, depending on how the first purchase goes.

The fundraising efforts will kick off with a silent auction to be held in partnership with Malama Hawaii Nei’s annual Braddah Smitty’s Laupahoehoe Music Festival on Feb. 23 at Laupahoehoe Point. Organizers are seeking goods and services for auction. For more information or to get involved, contact Karen Rowland at (808)640-6981 or email jadekaren@pacific.net.

Laupahoehoe Community Public Charter School is in its first academic year of operation, after taking the facility over from the state Department of Education this summer. While the school still receives public funding, it answers to a local school board, rather than the state DOE.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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