Fuel prices driving up school bus operating costs|[3/28/05]

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 28, 2005

Among those whose budgets for fuel have been burst by the sharp rise in fuel prices is the Vicksburg Warren School District.

The district planned to spend about $300,000 for fuel for the about 140 buses it uses each day to take students to and from school, plus about 25 other vehicles that are used for maintenance and other purposes, said David Keen, the district’s transportation director.

The budget was up 9.1 percent from last year’s $275,000 but still not enough to cover this year’s costs.

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School buses and most other school vehicles run on diesel. Both diesel and regular gasoline are refined from crude oil and both have tracked a national trend toward record levels. A major factor has been sharp rises in the price of crude oil on the world market.

The average price for a gallon of regular gasoline in the region that includes this area was $2.09 today, up nearly 70 cents from the previous year, Department of Energy statistics show. And the regional average price for a gallon of diesel was $2.18, up 5 cents from the previous week and 59.3 cents from the previous year.

The school district does not have its own fuel pumps and drivers of school vehicles purchase fuel on a state contract from local retailers, Keen said. The prices under the contract are based on a formula and are lower than retail, but still fluctuate with the market, he added. The schools are also exempt from fuel taxes.

“We’re maxed out,” Keen said of the school district’s budget for the year, which had eight weeks remaining before the last day of student attendance statewide, May 19. The district operates on a fiscal year that starts each July 1.

The amount of fuel used by the district has remained relatively stable over the past several years, so that practically all the increase can be attributed to the rise in per-gallon prices.

The VWSD transportation department may need to ask for funds to be reallocated from other areas within the district’s budget to cover the shortfall, Keen said.

The district’s fuel budget also came up short last year by about $12,000, Keen said.

Last year’s shortfall may have been made up from within the transportation department’s budget, said Marti Gunkel of the district’s administrative. No request for extra funds has been received by the central office and no decision has been made on what other areas of the budget might provide funds if needed, she added.

The VWSD estimated it would spend about $72.1 million this school year, including about $4.7 million on transportation.

Its budget for fuel accounts for about 0.42 percent of its overall budget and 6.7 percent of its transportation budget.

Some relief may come in the fall with a transition to neighborhood or community attendance zones for elementaries.

Under the plan approved and scheduled to go into effect, Superintendent James Price has said fewer buses will travel fewer miles to ferry students in grades K-6.