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As summer ends, school officials sweat over rising transportation expenses

Thursday, August 25, 2005

(Photo)
There was one advantage the little red school house had over today's big consolidated school corporation campuses. You didn't have to pay for diesel fuel for the big yellow bus to get your children to the little red school house.

"It's killing us," Frank Misner said Wednesday. The Clay Community Schools Director of Transportation was talking about the price of fuel.

The school corporation is paying an average of 70 cents per gallon more for gasoline and diesel fuel than it did a year ago.

Even though Misner tried to anticipate rising fuel costs, "You can't build that much of a jump into the budget," he said.

Describing the Transportation Department as a "bare bones operation," Misner said there is little more he can do to save money.

When asked about the fuel used when a bus is idling, he replied that during warm months, drivers can get into their buses, start them up and go, but in the cold months of winter, a bus typically idles for 30 minutes before the driver leaves to transport children. He plans to ask drivers to cut that idling time in half this winter to save fuel.

"But, that doesn't hurt you as much as the gas mileage," he said.

The buses typically get eight or nine miles per gallon.

Misner doesn't anticipate any mechanical design changes coming in the next five or six years that will help the situation.

When asked about the possibility of hybrid engines on buses, he said he has not heard of any such developments, nor could we find any information about school bus builders looking into the possibility. But traditional diesel-powered school buses are a hot commodity. Manufacturers Thomas and International have both opened new plants in the past five years.

While the school board faces the daunting task of cutting $1 million from its 2005-06 budget. The Transportation Budget is also a problem.

In the past two years, the State has cut its contribution to the local school corporation's Transportation Budget by about $238,000 each year, Misner said. The school corporation should receive about $119,000 from the State next year and the full $238,000 the following year. That money can be spent for any transportation needs. Likewise, the Transportation Fund has ended up in the red by about $238,000 each of the past two years, Misner said.

If fuel costs continue to rise, as predicted, Misner and other school transportation directors, will have to look at other budget items, hoping to be able to squeeze expenses while taxpayers try to squeeze a few more drops of fuel from the hose at the filling station pump.



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