Fuel costs sucking up school funds | AspenTimes.com

Fuel costs sucking up school funds

John Colson

Aspen School District is likely going to need to come up with additional money to fuel its buses through the school year, district officials say.The district’s fuel tanks – holding 8,000 gallons of diesel and 4,000 gallons of regular gasoline – are now less than half full, Transportation Director Fred Brooks said last week, and probably will need to be filled again by late October, if not before.To make up for gas prices that have nearly doubled in the last couple of years and other unforeseen expenses, district officials expect to consider budget amendments later this month.”We do expect there to be some adjustments,” Superintendent Diana Sirko said. That prediction is based both on rising gas prices and on the fact that the district has 21 new people on the payroll and approximately 13 students added to the rolls after school started (seven of them refugees from Hurricane Katrina), all of which changes the amount of money the district gets from the state as well as how the money is spent.It’s not clear just how much fuel costs will affect the budget. “It happened so quickly,” said Aspen School District assistant superintendent Bev Tarpley, noting that by the beginning of the summer the cost of fuel had already risen over the per-gallon price last year.Then came Hurricane Katrina, and fuel prices began marching skyward in response to the loss of pumping, refining and shipping capacity from damage to oil-processing facilities along the Gulf Coast.Tarpley said last week the district can do little but “watch and wait” to see where prices go from here and what the effect on the district’s budget will be.Brooks noted that he filled up the district’s fuel tanks in early July, at a cost of about $2 a gallon. “Probably saved about $6,000 or $7,000 over doing it right now,” he said.He said the district usually pays about 30 cents a gallon lower than the pump price because it buys in bulk and is not required to pay gasoline taxes.The district has 14 school bus routes, picking up as many as 800 kids a day out of an enrollment of 1,200, which Brooks said is “a higher percentage than most school districts.” The district’s vehicle fleet includes 18 diesel buses and 27 smaller vehicles fueled by regular gas.See Fuel on page A8The school district had budgeted $80,000 to fuel its vehicles, said district Finance Director Bill Anuszewski. That comes from $498,000 allocated to transportation in the overall district budget of $15.1 million for this school year.Plus, Anuszewski said, the jump in oil-related prices “impacts us in a couple of other ways, as well.”He said it is possible natural gas and electricity costs will increase as much as prices for vehicle fuel. Already, he said, the district’s budget for natural gas and electricity jumped by $100,000 over last year’s, and with the price hikes it is likely to be another $100,000 over budget for the year.Sirko said the school board will likely take up the issue of amending the budget at its Sept. 26 meeting.John Colson’s e-mail is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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