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News Update

Schools Tighten Fuel Budget Belt

Skyrocketing costs are forcing districts to rethink standard practices.


With fuel and energy prices soaring but also fluctuating between high and low, school districts across the country are finding ways to cut corners to keep budgets afl oat. The American Association of School Administrators’ new “Fuel and Energy Snapshot Survey” says that, in an effort to off set fuel and energy costs, nearly one in seven districts is considering moving to a four-day week, one in three is eliminating teaching jobs, and one in four is considering limits on athletics and extracurricular activities.

Reassessing the Budget

When negotiating with bus companies, schools are gambling whether to lock in a rate or keep it floating with what’s current.

--The Palisades School District in Kintnersville, Pa., will lock in fuel costs for the first time this year at a fixed $4.33 a gallon. Business administrator Jill Ruch says that although it’s a “good price for diesel,” it’s also 58 percent more than the $2.74 per gallon budgeted last year. “We were afraid the budget would be overextended if we didn’t lock in at $4.33,” she says.

--Bellevue (Neb.) Public Schools is budgeting $600,000 to cover fuel costs for 2008-2009, compared with $250,000 a year ago. Kentucky’s Bowling Green Independent Schools is budgeting an additional $45,000 over last year’s $130,000, and Durham (N.C.) Public Schools is budgeting $2.75 million for fuel, up from $2 million a year ago.

--Texas lawmakers say they must re-evaluate their state’s school funding system, which uses a 20-year-old formula based on outdated fuel prices to determine stateappropriated transportation funds.

--The Moorpark (Calif.) Unified School District’s 2,400 high school students don’t have buses anymore, as officials have eliminated rides to cope with operating a service that can cost hundreds of thousands to tens of millions of dollars a year.

Shorter Weeks

--Two Kentucky districts—Webster County Schools and Jenkins Independent Schools—are already on four-day-a-week schedules, but with more than 50 percent of the state’s students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch, those children rely on schools for basic nutrition needs, and it would be “extremely costly” for most districts to meet those demands on an extended day schedule, says Kentucky DOE spokeswoman Lisa Gross.

--Webster County Schools introduced a four-day school week in the 2003-2004 year to cut overall costs, but ended up “gaining much more,” says the district’s director of secondary programs, Carolyn Sholar. Not only did the district save on transportation costs, but state test scores also improved across all subject areas, and the open Mondays have allowed administrators and and staff to hold committee meetings and faculty meetings for professional development. Many of the district’s high school students now hold part-time jobs on Mondays, and their time at school is spent more effectively.

--The 700-student MACCRAY school district just west of Minneapolis has cut back to a four-day week for the 2008-2009 year. The change, designed to bring in the extra $65,000 needed to fill buses’ tanks for the year, will mean 23 fewer days of school a year, and the length of the day will be extended by a little more than an hour.


Limiting the Fun Stuff

--Kentucky districts are cutting back on field trips and extracurricular activities, but the state department of education is also partnering with school facilities staff to save money in the long term by achieving energy efficiency through centralized heating and geothermal systems.

--At Webster County Schools, plans to “limit transportation” for athletics and extracurricular activities include the state board’s termination of transportation funds for competition-based events. In the past, the board of ed has funded all transportation costs. “Other districts around us have not had the financial support of the board for any athletic and extracurricular activities for some time now,” says Carolyn Sholar, the district’s director of secondary programs and instruction, “so we’ve been lucky.” Each individual school sports team in Webster County is spearheading fundraising efforts to boost their resources, and Sholar says their plans are all in “pretty good shape.”

--At the Palisades School District in Kintnersville, Pa., an added expense of $0.50 per mile will be incorporated into the fees for every school field trip, and a surcharge of as much as $25 could be filtered into the overall cost for field trips in other districts in the state, says business administrator Jill Ruch.