Topeka With the first day of classes just around the corner, school districts across Kansas are searching for additional money in their budgets to keep up with rising fuel prices.
The state increased school funding by $290 million for the 2005-06 school year, with much of that dedicated to classroom expenditures. The increase was ordered by the Kansas Supreme Court in response to a lawsuit filed in 1999 by a coalition of school districts. Much of the money was earmarked for specific programs, not putting fuel in the tanks of thousands of buses.
Dale Dennis, interim commissioner of education, said Monday that districts were looking for funds to transfer to transportation budgets to meet the increased cost of fuel.
"There's no doubt about it that there's going to be some reallocation for fuel," Dennis said. "There will be some things in the budget that get squeezed to cover that cost."
According to the Energy Department, regular unleaded gasoline averages $2.37 a gallon nationwide, about 50 cents a gallon more than a year ago. Diesel is averaging $2.57 a gallon, compared with $1.82 a year ago.
Local schools budget to meet need
The Lawrence school district has budgeted about $100,000 to cover the rising costs of gasoline. "That's the most we've ever had to pay," Supt. Randy Weseman said. "This is definitely a new addition to the budget." Those funds could cover the cost of two-and-a-half teachers, he said. "It could be used for things that we need to educate kids," Weseman said. "I wouldn't want to see fuel continue to eat up our resources." The Lawrence district charges a bus fee to students who live within 2.5 miles of the school, though some students who qualify don't have to pay the fee. It is $120 for kindergarten students and $240 for students in grades 1-12. The gas tank of a big bus holds about 60 gallons. It costs about $150 to fill up the tank with diesel fuel, said Wayne Zachary of Laidlaw Education Services.
Source: Journal-World staff reports
"I never thought I would see a time when fuel prices have been as volatile as they have been recently," Dennis said.
Dennis said districts are reimbursed for transporting students who live 2.5 miles or more from school, but rates are based on the costs from the previous year, meaning districts will get no relief from the state during the upcoming year.
"They'll have to eat it this year," Dennis said.
Districts are reimbursed based on a formula that takes into account the number of students per square mile. The rate varies from $1,339 for districts with one-tenth of a student per square mile to $417 for those with more than 23 students per square mile.
Joan Friend, superintendent of the Syracuse district, said she put additional money in the budget for the five buses in her 992-square-mile district. Syracuse transports 115 of its 455 students daily. The district eliminated one bus route two years ago to cut expenses.
"If it keeps up like it is, we're going to have to look for other areas, probably from supplies that we would like to purchase," Friend said.
The board has decided not to reduce the number of field trips or transportation to athletic events, nor has it passed the increased cost of travel on to parents.
"Out in this part of the state, you just travel a long distance when you go to athletic events," Friend said. "We'll just make the adjustments."
Dennis said other operational costs, including natural gas and insurance, had risen in recent years. He expects legislators to fund the increase in transportation costs next session.
"I think they'll understand the situation, and I think the response will be positive in terms of getting students to and from school," he said.
Dennis doesn't expect urban and suburban districts to reduce transportation services because school boards want to make sure students get to and from school safely.
"This is so important. Many boards will not change their policy at this time. This is a very sacred area," he said.
More about school finance
- Webcast of live arguments before the Kansas Supreme Court (requires Windows Media Player)
- Brief of the Montoy suit (.pdf)
- Timeline of events in school finance lawsuit
- 6News video: School finance bill to face court
- Plaintiffs: School finance bill fails grade (06-13-06)
- State wants high court to dismiss school suit (06-02-06)
- Legislature approves school finance plan (05-10-06)
- Chat with Bob Corkins, Kansas Education Commissioner (02-02-06)
- House roll call on $148.4 million school finance plan (07-07-05)
- Supt. Weseman's contingency plan (07-06-05)
- More about school finance »
- Conference Committee on Senate Bill 549
- House bill info
- Senate bill info
- Kansas public schools cost study
- Kansas public schools cost study executive summary
- Public Education Finances 2004 (.pdf)
- Senate roll call on $148.4 million school finance plan
- Supreme Court's Show Cause Order (07-02-05)
- Supreme Court's Order Denying Extension (.pdf)
- Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 1603 (.pdf)
- Supplemental Note on Resolution No. 1603 (.pdf)