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Board of Education feels pinch at diesel pump

February 29, 2000|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Skyrocketing fuel prices are draining the Washington County Board of Education's school bus budget, but Transportation Director Chris Carter said the yellow fleet should finish the year in the black.

The School Board has 177 buses that cover an estimated 60,000 miles a week, according to Carter. Each uses diesel fuel, the surging cost of which caused truckers to stage a protest in Washington last week.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other oil-producing nations reduced oil production during the last year, a move mostly responsible for higher prices.

The school administration buys bulk fuel for the 113 buses it owns through a state contract that yields cheaper rates than those at the pump, partly because it doesn't include certain taxes.

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Last year, the school system paid about 80 cents per gallon, according to Carter. In January, it paid $1.07 per gallon and Carter said the price is expected to reach $1.56.

"It's a significant jump," he said. "That's going to create an issue for everyone."

The fleet also includes 64 buses owned by contractors who are repaid for pump costs based on a formula.

Every month, Carter's staff surveys eight filling stations in the county to come up with an average. That figure is divided by the average miles per gallon rate for a school bus, 7.3. The total is the contractor's fuel rate.

The average pump price has risen 38 cents since the start of the school year, according to Carter. It is up from about $1.24 per gallon in September to $1.62 this month.

The contractor's buses drive about 6,00 miles in a day, which means they are paying about $322 more for fuel each day than they were in September. "Any way you cut it, it's a significant increase," Carter said.

The transportation department budgeted $201,600 for fuel this year. It pays contractors through a separate line item. Carter said the school system spent $18,700 on fuel last month and about half the fuel budget is spent so far.

"We should be OK through the remainder of the school year," he said. "If it doesn't get any worse, we should make it through July 1."

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