Fuel prices pinching school districts

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by CHRIS DANIELS / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on April 14, 2011 at 4:58 PM

Updated Thursday, Apr 14 at 5:07 PM

SEATTLE – It's another cost that most school districts just didn't see coming. The ever-rising price of fuel is making it harder to keep their buses running.

“I don’t think any district can absorb the spike,” Seattle School District Transportation Manager Tom Bishop said.

He estimates the department is $400,000 over its fuel budget due to the increase in diesel costs. The cost for running some 400 buses is about 40 percent higher than at the start of the year.

“There is not a solution or best way to handle it,” said Terry Parker, who manages buses in the Bellevue School District.

Drivers there are asked to reduce idling, and the district is now using GPS technology to reduce mileage on routes. Parker projects the district will pay $40,000 more than it budgeted. District Buses use 15,000 to 16,000 gallons of fuel a month.

Districts purchase fuel differently and usually in bulk on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, but the slightest increase can result in thousands of dollars.

Every 10 cent increase in the cost of diesel costs the Issaquah School District $20,000, said district spokesperson Sara Niegowski.

Most districts say surplus funds will cover a shortage this school year, but they admit next school year is a different story if fuel costs don’t dramatically drop.

“It’s becoming a panic situation of how many teachers do we quantify, or people in the district to support student education, are in peril because of this increase in fuel,” Bishop said.

Bishop said the district may look at hybrid buses or alternative energy transportation, but that could be more than a year away.

The Tacoma School District says it overbudgeted for fuel last year and built a transportation fund surplus which is coming in handy this year.

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