Fuel crunch bruises school bus budgets

Posted on March 23, 2000

A steep rise in prices for diesel fuel and gasoline has forced school bus operators to consider ways to minimize the effects on their transportation programs. Jerry Tatum, transportation director at Biloxi (Miss.) Public Schools, said he will be forced to raise per-mile rates for field trips. "We’ve got to break even," he said. "I’m going to have to start charging more, the question is, ‘Can the schools afford to pay it?’" Tatum said his monthly fuel bill has risen from approximately $3,500 in September 1999 to about $5,000 in February 2000. And fuel prices continued to rise in March. "We’ll just have to ride it out," he said. Rob Brooks, fleet maintenance supervisor at Sarasota (Fla.) County Schools, said the steep rise in fuel prices will play havoc with his budget. In mid-March, he was paying 95 cents per gallon for diesel and $1 a gallon for gasoline, more than double the prices of a year earlier. "We figure to run out in April," he said, referring to his fuel budget. In addition to forcing the school district to dip into its budget reserves, the rising fuel costs could place other stresses on the program. Brooks said he might have to trim his technician training budget to compensate for the higher fuel prices. Virgil Miller, vehicle maintenance manager at the school district in Covington, Ky., said his fuel costs are running about $2,300 more per month than at the same time last year. He operates 27 school buses. Ken McCoy, executive director of the Antelope Valley School Transportation Agency, a joint powers authority in Southern California, said the fuel crisis has renewed his enthusiasm for alternative fuel, such as CNG. "You can’t compromise safety, but there are a lot of things you can do to reduce your costs," he said.

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