Archive for Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Schools feel the squeeze

Fuel and food prices taking toll

Jim Myers, bus driver for First Student Transportation, fills up a bus with diesel before picking up students for summer school recently. Skyrocketing gas prices have the school district dealing with new budget concerns.

Jim Myers, bus driver for First Student Transportation, fills up a bus with diesel before picking up students for summer school recently. Skyrocketing gas prices have the school district dealing with new budget concerns.

July 9, 2008


Fuel and food prices taking toll on schools

Increasing energy and food costs are cutting into household budgets - but imagine the pinch if you had to feed and transport thousands of children every day. Enlarge video

On the street

How do you think school districts can save money on food and fuel costs?

To save on the gas budget, they would need more fuel-efficient vehicles or need to partner with the local mass transit system. As far as saving on food, that’s more difficult. I suppose they could have a sack lunch day once a week.

More responses

Gasoline and food prices are draining households of cash. Now, imagine if you had to feed and transport thousands of children each day.

That's what area school districts face as they prepare for students' return to school next month.

Superintendents and school boards are crafting budgets - and trying to determine how to find money to handle fuel and food costs.

"It's always a moving target because factors in the economy are continually changing," Lawrence Superintendent Randy Weseman said.

In Lawrence, the district this week approved a 10-cent increase for most meals. Last year, the district also increased its meal prices by 10 cents.

Weseman has also voiced concern about diesel fuel, which now is hovering near $5 a gallon. After the district spent about $200,000 in overage charges last school year, that number could be between $350,000 to $500,000 this school year.

Weseman wants to shy away from cutting bus service or increasing student fees, but he is looking at cutting down on the number of field trips. He also has mentioned tightening up budgets on capital expenses and general operating expenses that are not related directly to classroom instruction, transportation or energy costs.

"I just can't speculate (what those would be) at this point," he said.

Board member Craig Grant said some on the board want to fit the increased fuel cost into the budget without a net mill-levy increase.

The Lawrence district certainly isn't alone.

Cutting travel

"We are examining several things to try and save money right now," Baldwin Superintendent Paul Dorathy said. "One thing we are looking at is all of our field trips and looking at making efficiencies there. We've talked about how far should we travel for field trips and how many should we take in a year."

He said that perhaps athletic teams will have to play closer to home.

"I don't want our kids not to participate in athletics," he said. "We may have to start choosing different places to go, though."

And perhaps sport utility vehicles or other smaller vehicles could replace full-size buses on some trips. Although SUVs don't get great gas mileage, Dorathy knows it's better than a large school bus. And perhaps the district will upgrade some of its bus fleet.

"Some of the newer buses get better gas mileage," Dorathy said.

Baldwin already has begun buying some food in bulk.

"It's easier to buy in bulk, and it's more expensive to have a company stop by several times for smaller shipments," Dorathy said. "We are trying to cut rates and shipping costs."

Students paying more

Tonganoxie school board members have OK'd a 30-cent meal price increase. Students will pay 100 percent more for milk - 50 cents.

In addition, Superintendent Richard Erickson encourages families to apply for free and reduced-price lunches for their children. He said he thinks some families that qualify are not taking advantage of the service, which will provide additional state aid to the district.

"That amount can increase significantly if everyone who qualifies fills out their applications and receives those," Erickson said.

As for the fuel budget, Erickson wants to increase that budget from $72,000 to $90,000 for 2008-09.

In Eudora, officials also have approved meal and milk price hikes for next year. Don Grosdidier, interim superintendent, said the price of gasoline would factor into the budgeting process.

"We're still in the process of setting the budget, but rising fuel prices is an issue that will have to be taken into account," he said. "It's definitely a concern."

Pinching pennies

The need for a large boost in the transportation fuel budget has Basehor-Linwood school officials brainstorming how to pinch pennies in other areas.

Superintendent Bob Albers said the district tried to contract for fuel about a year ago, but with skyrocketing prices, he said he doubts that now is an option. The district's fuel budget likely will increase $30,000.

And board members are looking at cutting bus routes and combining teams on buses when traveling to activities. The district receives state reimbursement for about 80 percent of the cost of busing children more than 2.5 miles. But it receives nothing for students traveling fewer than 2.5 miles. So it's possible students might be charged a fee to ride fewer than 2.5 miles. Field trips and supplies may also be cut short.

"We're still not to the point that we're enforcing that, but it's something we'll be looking at this year I'm sure," Albers said.

Basehor-Linwood already has increased lunch prices by 10 cents for next year.

"If those costs go up higher than what we budget, we have to cut it somewhere," Albers said.

Tight budget

Like his counterparts in other districts Robert Van Maren said the coming year is shaping up to be tough one financially for the Bonner Springs-Edwardsville school district.

"This is the tightest budget since I've been here," said Van Maren, who has been superintendent for 11 years.

Van Maren said food costs likely will increase $60,000 from the $505,220 spent last school year.

Fuel costs were about $110,000 for the 2007-2008 year, Van Maren said, about $50,000 more than the district included in its budget. This year, Van Maren said, the fuel budget will "probably be close to $160,000 total."

If costs continue to rise, Van Maren said, the district may have to look at increasing fees for student lunches and even textbooks, or cutting costs, possibly including personnel.

"We try to keep them down," Van Maren said of student fees, because "everybody's stretched with the economy as it is."

Doing more with less

School districts in Shawnee are proposing larger fuel budgets for next year.

The Shawnee Mission school district's fuel budget for next year is up 26 percent from last year, said Tim Rooney, manager of budget and finance.

"We went up about double from a year ago, but will it do it again? I guess it's anyone's crystal ball," Rooney said.

In the De Soto, higher fuel costs also are anticipated. Operations director Jack Deyoe estimated the district used the same amount of fuel this year as it had the year before, despite opening two new schools.

"We were able to do more with less," he said. "They are not taking as many field trips and with Mill Creek (Middle School) open, some of the games are not so far away."

Both districts are feeling the pinch with rising food costs as well.

In Shawnee Mission, the district is proposing a food budget that's up about $50,000 from last year. De Soto is proposing a food budget up nearly $150,000 from last year. De Soto also increased student lunch prices by 5 cents.

Alvie Cater, De Soto community relations director, said there was a reason the increase in food costs for De Soto was three times as much as Shawnee Mission's. U.S. Food Service, the De Soto's food supplier, didn't include a fuel-adjustment clause in its four-year contract with the district.

"So for four years, they weren't paying that fuel surcharge that maybe other districts have been paying," Cater said.

- The World Company reporters Shawn Linenberger, Lara Hastings, Jimmy Gillispie, Jesse Truesdale, Leann Sulzen, David Oakes and Elvyn Jones contributed to this report.


fu7il3 9 years, 9 months ago

"Wonder where they "found" this? Why, in the taxpayer's pockets!!"Or maybe they found it through income and fundraising from athletic events.

tnt1985 9 years, 9 months ago

They could easily save THOUSANDS of dollars by parking some busses in various school parking lots around town instead of returing to the bus lot on the southeast side of town after every trip. This simple change would not cost anything.

gccs14r 9 years, 9 months ago

Use the city busses instead of school busses. Also, an SUV may get better fuel economy in comparison to a bus, but not better seat-miles per gallon. The bus may get only 5 mpg, but that's with 44 people aboard. (220 seat-miles per gallon.) A 19-mpg SUV carrying 7 people is not as efficient. (133 seat-miles per gallon.)

Ann Hamil 9 years, 9 months ago

Partner with local farmers for fresh food. Then bring those farmers in to the schools to teach the students (and staff) about the science of sustainable gardening with a school garden or greenhouse project. Fresh food is better for students (and everyone) anyway. They will be better able to concentrate and learn after eating better food AND they will learn an important lifelong skill which they may be able to pass along to their families at home.

WHY 9 years, 9 months ago

I will worry when there is no money for chase the ball and other non academic events. I bet it never happens

meburr 9 years, 9 months ago

They could put more kids on a bus. My kids' bus is only 1/4 full and they get to school 15 minutes early. They have to sit on the bus for those 15 minutes anyway before they're allowed to off load into the school. There are 3 buses that run within 5 miles of our house that are each 1/4 full of kids....

Jackson 9 years, 9 months ago

497 administration "found" $3,000.000 to build new astroturf lighted stadiums, softball fields, baseball fields, soccer fields, tennis courts, parking lots, hefty salary raises, etc....Wonder where they "found" this? Why, in the taxpayer's pockets!!Are they feeling 'your' pain? Of course, all the way to the playing field(s)!We need school board members that are not "yesssss-men" to the administration!Lawrence taxpayers cannot afford to 'keep up' with the "Joneses" (Johnson Co.).

cato_the_elder 9 years, 9 months ago

Benny, the problem on the national level is simply that a great deal of money gets poured into an education system that actually fosters ignorance by dumbing everything down to the lowest common denominator. And yes, by far the best current example of this is "No Child Left Behind," which is an abomination - it's outcomes-based education in its most virulent form. Despite some positives derived from the socialization aspects of public education, which I strongly support, no one can seriously contend that our public education system, either locally or nationally, is anywhere close to what it was even 30 years ago, much less 50.

dragonfly0221 9 years, 9 months ago

Why not wait till after Labor Day to start school so we are not having to use A/C as much, then keep school in the first few weeks into June. It is not ever as hot in June as it is August. Save money on utilities and put it back into the kids!

Gina Bailey-Carbaugh 9 years, 9 months ago

Jackson, not just the taxpayers, but the parents (also taxpayers) are paying outlandish fees for "free" public education. Average $167 per student per semester + lunches + bus fair if not within 2 miles of the school (or gas if parent takes them to school) + fees for extracurricular activities = $$$. There needs to be some downsizing in the school administration, big time. Weseman's answer: fewer field trips?!?! What next? Parents take their kids to the out-of-town games instead of by bus? No, Weseman, fewer administrative assistants is what needs to happen.

BigPrune 9 years, 9 months ago

This large article about the poor school district is the start of many future articles. This will last for months, then there will be an eventual tax increase next year. What do you bet?

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