Energy costs concern Chambersburg school officials

September 08, 2005|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - On Sept. 1, many area gas stations raised prices 20 cents and sometimes 40 cents or more per gallon as the effects of Hurricane Katrina on oil wells, refineries and transmission systems hit an already tight fuel market.

That was also the day bus contractors with the Chambersburg Area School District had their prices locked in for the escalator clauses in their contracts. Under those contracts, the relief the bus lines could receive was based on increases they experienced above the costs they paid that day.

Business Manager Rick Vensel said about 70 percent of the transportation is done by contractors and "we have a desire to keep them viable." He said the district is working on a plan to compensate them for the increased fuel costs.


"We didn't get the bills yet, but I'm sure they're on the way," said Dean Meyers, who owns Meyers Bus Lines with his wife, Doris. "We can't absorb all of that," he said of the spike in fuel costs.

"We bus students 6,600 miles a day," said Ted Rabold, Chambersburg's assistant superintendent for pupil services. Little can be done to reduce that daily mileage, but Rabold and other district officials said they are working on other ways of cutting fuel usage.

Meyers said his company, one of three major bus contractors for the district, serves 28 routes covering about a quarter of the daily mileage cited by Rabold.

While prices for many fuel suppliers have stabilized or retreated somewhat, school districts can expect to pay a good deal more for transportation than was budgeted July 1 for the 2005-06 school year. Vensel said the district's fuel costs for its fleet of mostly diesel-powered buses will likely be $43,000 higher than the $146,520 in the budget.

Some students could find themselves taking some "virtual field trips" by computers rather than buses, said Eric Michael, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. Athletic teams could also find themselves packed in with other squads for away games, he said.

The good news for the district is that it locked in the cost of heating oil for many of its buildings in June, when the tax-free price was $1.69 a gallon, Vensel said. The district budgeted $130,000 for heating oil this year.

There is uncertainty about the prices of electricity and natural gas, according to Vensel. The district budgeted $633,300 for electricity and $322,000 for natural gas. For buildings within Chambersburg, those are purchased from the borough, which has its own utilities.

The ripple effect of higher energy prices might also affect the price of other goods and services purchased by the district, Vensel said.

The district has taken steps in recent years to make buildings more fuel efficient, including renovations to systems at the middle, junior high and high schools and several elementary schools, Michael said.

Those improvements have meant about $420,000 in energy savings a year, according to Vensel. The cost of heating, air conditioning and lighting district buildings was about $1 million five years ago and remains about the same now, he said.

Michael said plans are in the works for "revitalizing our energy education to our students and staff." That can be as simple as reminders to turn off lights or close doors when leaving rooms, he said.

Adjusting the thermostats in schools could create additional savings, but only to the point it does not adversely affect students, Rabold said. The district air conditions rooms at temperatures above 73 degrees and heats them when temperatures fall below 71 degrees, Vensel said.

The district can save about 1 percent on heating costs for every degree thermostats are set back, Vensel said.

"If this is just a Sept. 1 blip, we're going to be OK," Vensel said, but the district must plan for unstable energy prices. The administration will make a presentation on energy issues at next Wednesday's school board meeting.

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