School Bus Fuel Costs More Than Budget

by Eileen Jones - bio | email

For the next few weeks more eyes than normal will be watching Alabama's retail stores and gas pumps.

That's because the sales tax revenues and gasoline prices affect the backbone of the state's education budget, and the price of fuel is straining many school systems budgets.

It was just two and a half months ago the legislature convened in special session in May to vote on an education budget. Education Budget Chairman Senator Hank Sanders predicted then the state would be in proration this school year.

The outlook was gloomy then and it still is because money is tight.  The final fight at that time was between higher ed and K-through-12 over $5,000,000.  Higher Ed wanted it but K-12 said it needed it for increased fuel costs.

The State Director of Transportation, Joe Lightsey, was happy about the results. "The legislature was good to give us the additional five million then that helped to bridge the gap a little bit."

But, now, Lightsey and the State Department of Education say that's still not going to be enough. "The way fuel and the way transportation costs have gone up, especially in the last couple of three years, it just out strips our efforts to be able to stay on top of it."

When the education budget was being debated, the State Department of Education had hoped to give school systems at least $3.00 for a gallon of diesel fuel.  The extra $5,000,000 raised that figure to $3.45 a gallon. However, now, school systems around the state are paying an average of $3.94 and that's without having to pay taxes. And, in these tough economic times, Lightsey says local districts must find a way to make up the difference.

"Every time fuel goes up a penny it costs taxpayers about $112,000 to pay for fuel for school buses and that's for regular routes. That doesn't include extra curricula activities."

In Elmore County, the Director of Transportation says their fuel costs go up every month. One month it was $91,000 and that was just for regular routes because most extra curricular activities pay their own expenses.

Also, to cut down on fuel, Elmore county buses no longer pick up students at their front doors, and drivers have been asked to cut down on their idling time while warming up in the mornings and while waiting at schools.