Rising fuel prices putting strain on school districts | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Rising fuel prices putting strain on school districts

William Ferchland

Soaring diesel prices are forcing school districts to cut field trips. Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune

Surging gas prices have forced two school districts at the South Shore to consolidate trips for sports teams and tap the brakes on financing field trips.

In Douglas County School District officials are bracing for an additional $200,000 in costs associated with rising diesel prices.

Rick Kester, assistant superintendent for business services, said other cuts besides field trips and packing sports teams into buses could come down the pike for a district that eliminated Spanish in elementary schools last summer in a cost-cutting move.

“It will not be business as usual in busing,” he said.

The district allocated $280,000 for fuel for last school year. If the district doesn’t do anything to reduce costs, it would need to add another $200,000 to offset the costs, Kester said.

Last year the average price for a gallon of diesel was $1.65, Kester said. On Friday, the day the district takes bids for fuel, the price was $2.74 per gallon, Kester said.

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The disruption of the domestic oil supply from Hurricane Katrina resulted in a 50-cent jump in oil prices last week, Kester said.

The district buys gasoline about two or three times a month for its 70 buses.

“So it’s a significant cost to us,” said Kester, who expects a ripple-effect in other areas like heating and food.

Superintendent John Soderman said the cost increase was the equivalent of hiring three teachers.

The price of a gallon of gas for Lake Tahoe Unified School District went from a low of $1.03 in the 2003-04 school year to $2.37 on Wednesday, said Steve Morales, district facilities manager.

In anticipation of rising gas prices, the district allotted $90,000 for fuel costs this year, $15,000 more than the previous fiscal year.

The fleet consists of 30 buses and 28 support vehicles.

Each year 45,000 to 50,000 gallons of fuel is consumed, and when the supply gets down to about 1,800 or 1,500 gallons, an order is made for a tanker to deliver 7,500 gallons, Morales said. Six or seven deliveries are made each year, Morales added.

A directive of consolidating field trips and sports teams in buses has been issued, Morales said, but “at this point” won’t be limiting sports trips.

Superintendent James Tarwater, doubling as the district’s chief financial officer, said $126,000 from a state-issued “block grant” can be designated to counter fuel costs.