Drivers may be struggling to shell out more money for gas each week, but local school districts are shoveling out thousands more a month for diesel fuel for school buses.
“If prices continue to rise, Boyle County and all other school districts are going to have to do some soul searching to figure out ways to make ends meet,” said Mike Pittman, Boyle County school system’s director of operations.
However, operations directors agree that changing bus routes and travel plans this late in the school year is not an ideal solution. So administrators will likely wait until the fall to decide on the best method of grappling with fuel prices.
“Are we thinking about things? Sure,” Pittman said. “But, have we decided, ‘all right we’re going to cut bus routes’? No.”
Ronnie Deatherage, Lincoln County’s director of operations, said his district also will try to refrain from making major changes this spring, even though Lincoln buses travel significantly more than those in surrounding districts.
Deatherage said Lincoln buses cover about 6,000 miles a day, while Mercer County Transportation Director Mike Preston said his buses travel about 3,000 miles a day.
For Lincoln County, this means roughly an extra $500 a day for every 50-cent increase in diesel prices, Deatherage said.
“We’re going to really evaluate the routes at a meeting on Friday and through the summer,” he said.
Lincoln County drivers have started “bus pooling” to the schools and bus garage, which limits the fuel they use transporting themselves in empty buses.
The district also has implemented a no idling policy, so parked buses can’t waste fuel.
Mercer County has a similar policy, but Preston said it may not prevent the district from exceeding its fuel budget.
Administrators budgeted about $250,000 for fuel this year, after spending about $235,000 in the 2009-2010 school year.
The district already has spent about $185,000 of this year’s allocation, so administrators have set aside extra funds in case prices overflow the budget, Preston said.
“Hopefully we won’t have to use it,” he said.
Pittman is confident Boyle County will stay within its budget this year, despite spending about $2,700 more for March’s first fuel purchase than February’s last purchase.
However, the rising costs already have impacted plans for the 2011-2012 budget.
Schools buy wholesale fuel and are exempt from some taxes, meaning they can purchase diesel for about 35 cents less than the pump price.
Last year, Boyle County administrators budgeted for fuel based on a $3.25-a-gallon cost, which is about 20 cents cheaper than the district paid most recently, Pittman said.
“We’re going to be a lot closer to going over budget than we’ve ever been,” he said.
As a result, administrators are considering budgeting fuel at $4 a gallon for the 2011-2012 school year, Pittman said.
“We will finish the year out as is,” he said. “If prices continue to go up at this rate, we’re going to have to make some difficult decisions.”