While gas prices have hovered around $4 a gallon over the last few months, consumers haven’t been the only ones feeling the pinch in their fuel budgets, local school systems have been as well.
Getting over 5,700 students to and from school every day on over 160 buses (in both systems) takes fuel, fuel for which the state allots just $2.51 per gallon. That low allotment has pinched transportation officials to follow the lead of other counties, such as Carteret County, to make a plea to state legislators requesting them to fully fund the actual cost of fuel for school buses.
Transportation director Herb Sanderson recently appeared before the Sampson County Board of Education to request approval of a resolution from the board to send to state leaders.
“We are struggling,” admitted Sanderson. “Dr. Ethan Lenker and I met and discussed ideas on what we could do to get help in an effort to work with these rising costs of fuel, and this resolution was a step in the right direction.”
Sanderson said that per a contract, the system is alloted just $2.51 a gallon from the state. However, at the beginning of this week, the system was paying $3.39 a gallon for diesel fuel.
“The prices change daily,” he said. “You know, what we are paying now is $.88 cents more than what we get from the state. You can plan and anticipate it as much as you can, but after a while, you just need more.”
In the county, there are 135 school buses that transport over 5,700 students a day and those buses travel 8,648 miles a day all over the county.
Sanderson that because of anticipating higher gas prices during the last school year, his team was able to balance the transportation budget even when the state allotted only $2.21 a gallon, $.30 less than what they have been given this year.
“Last year the fuel was $3.18 a gallon,” Sanderson noted. “We were able to maintain that without having to dip into the local budget because we knew what we would be getting from the state early on. We anticipated the costs and were able to change some routes and move things around to balance it out without losing quality.”
In the end, Sanderson said, it was a $147,000 shortfall last year, but because of anticipating the costs and making subtle changes to routes, the Transportation Department managed to skim by on the state’s fuel allotment.
Not so, this year.
“Buses in both school systems use 7,500 gallons of diesel fuel a week,” Sanderson said. “We try to anticipate as much as we can, but we couldn’t do as much this year. To the state’s credit, we did get a boost from $2.21 to $2.51, but it is just not enough. When you begin changing more routes and things like that, that means you cut drivers and we aren’t going to do that.”
Which is why Sanderson appeared before the board to request the resolution for state legislators.
“Luckily we haven’t had to have funding come from the local budget, but we have been monitoring the numbers and it is getting tight,” he said. “Something needs to be done.”
When the topic came up in the agenda Monday night, the Sampson County School Board of Education unanimously approved the resolution. However, it could be weeks, even months, before they get any answers. Until then, transportation officials will continue to cross their fingers and hope that the current gas prices will continue to decrease.
To reach Doug Clark call 910-592-8137 ext. 123 or email to email@example.com.