Archive for Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Schools see gas, diesel costs spiral

April 29, 2008

Local school districts are trying to do more with less as they struggle with rising fuel prices.

"Anytime you are on a fixed budget like schools are and one cost is higher than you expect it to be, you hope that another cost is less to balance it out," De Soto USD 232 operations director Jack Deyoe said.

Deyoe said last year the district paid $2.34 per gallon for diesel fuel for De Soto school buses. This year, he said the average cost is about $2.94 per gallon and probably would increase to about $3 per gallon.

Last year the De Soto district used 94,000 gallons of fuel, and if it consumes the same about this year it will cost about $56,400 more.

Deyoe estimated the district was using the same amount of fuel this year, despite opening two new schools.

"We are able to do more with less," he said. "They are not taking as many field trips and with Mill Creek (Middle School) open, some of the games are not so far away."

Deyoe said each school was responsible for its own budget, so staff members were looking at other field trip options.

"The teachers are seeing if they can go some place closer to get the same academic benefits," he said.

In Shawnee Mission USD 512, the increasing prices are felt when purchasing fuel for buses, district spokeswoman Leigh Anne Neal said.

"We get quotes on a weekly basis for fuel for buses," she said. "Normally it's about three to six quotes. Last year on average fuel cost $2.27 per gallon. This year fuel costs $2.95 per gallon. When planning for this year we increased the budget."

Shawnee Mission budgeted $960,000 in fuel for the 2007-08 school year.

A smaller carryover from unused budget dollars is another concern, Deyoe said.

"That carryover can be put into the teacher salaries," he said. "You are reducing your carryovers that could be used for supplies or teacher salaries."

Deyoe said cost of transportation would be evident in the 2008-09 budget.

"A larger piece of the general fund is going to have to be set aside for transportation and taken away from something else," he said. "My job is to rub the crystal ball and see what it says. Sometimes you forecast it correctly and sometimes you don't."

Although the cost of busing students is increasing for the district, Deyoe said parents wouldn't see a difference in the bus service fee for the next school year.

"We compare what we are charging our families with other school districts in the area," he said. "We don't want to get out of line. We've held the cost on our bus transportation for several years now."

The district charges $250 per student and a maximum of $500 per family for bus transportation to those who live within 2.5 miles of the school.

"The bus fee has always been 50 percent of what it really costs us to haul the kids," Deyoe said. "Now it's about 45 percent of what it really costs, but at the same time it's a fee for the parents and they are struggling, too."

Intradistrict transportation

With eight vehicles and mowers, the district's facilities department also is feeling the pricing pinch, De Soto facilities director Denis Johnson said.

Staff members are doing what they can to conserve gasoline, Johnson said.

"If they have a project they are working on on the eastern side of the district, let's say at Mill Valley High School, we have them check their work orders to see if there is something that needs to be done at Prairie Ridge or at Monticello Trails," he said.

Johnson said he couldn't compare this year's facilities budget to last year's because there are a few new positions.

Johnson said the department budgeted about $25,000 for fuel for this school year, and was had spent about $12,600 at the halfway mark.

The gasoline charges also come out of the general fund and is one of the costs the facilities department is looking at as it moves to the next budget year.

"Our budgets are definitely getting tighter for several reasons," Johnson said. "Every little piece impacts us."

Shawnee Mission runs a fleet of 108 district, vehicles and fuel for those vehicles is budgeted by the operations and maintenance department. For the 2007-08 school year, the department budgeted $257,000.

But Neal said operations and maintenance manager Bruce Kracl expects that number to be surpassed.

"He thinks the cost will probably exceed those budget figures about 10 percent," Neal said.

Rising food costs

De Soto student nutrition director Julie McGrath keeps her eyes on food prices and has seen some dramatic increases this year.

Margarine costs $6.64 per case, which is 51 percent more than it cost last year. The cost for a case of tater tots is $3.45 - up 27 percent from last year.

McGrath said she can't attribute rising prices alone to rising food costs.

"Real truthfully, it's such a trickle-down phenomenon," she said. "I couldn't just tell you right off the bat how much of an increase is due to a particular set of costs."

Neal reported that Shawnee Mission food services manager Nancy Coughenour also saw food costs increase.

"But she wouldn't attribute it all to gas," Neal said.

McGrath said De Soto was saving on fuel costs by having a centralized warehouse.

"By having one warehouse drop that company has to make, that is a significant savings compared to a district where a company has to make a stop at every school," she said. "Our district internally distributes the food along with the mail to various schools."

While lunch prices have increased about 5 cents for the next school year, McGrath said it doesn't come close to covering the increased salaries and increased cost of food.

So far, McGrath has been able to avoid dipping into the general fund for help covering food costs. Instead, she looks to the a la carte sales at the middle and high schools to help keep lunch costs down.

But selling snack foods like ice cream and cookies comes with criticism as the federal government pushes for healthier eating habits, McGrath said.

"I am a registered dietician and I don't disagree, but I am the director of the nutritional program and I have and obligation to direct my program," she said. "The cost of those a la carte items help keep the lunch prices where they are. So when parents and nutrition advocates talk about doing away with the a la carte, the cost of your kid's lunch is going to go up to $4."

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