Richmond, Columbia county school districts feel pain of higher gas prices

Gas prices force budget assessment

Wednesday, March 14, 2012 8:07 PM
Last updated 11:17 PM
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Richmond County's school system has spent $500,000 more on gas this year than it had this time last year. A budget amendment might be necessary to meet the system's fuel needs, Controller Gene Spires said.  JACKIE RICCIARDI/FILE
Richmond County's school system has spent $500,000 more on gas this year than it had this time last year. A budget amendment might be necessary to meet the system's fuel needs, Controller Gene Spires said.

As gas prices near $4 per gallon, the Richmond County School System is feeling the pain at the pump.

The school system – which has more than 150 buses – has spent $500,000 more on gas than it did this time last year, when it budgeted more for fuel. If gas prices continue to rise, as analysts predict, the district will have to pull from an already dry general fund.

“It looks like it’s going to be a budget buster,” system Controller Gene Spires said. With more than three months left in the fiscal year, the district has spent more than 70 percent of its $1.66 million fuel budget. Spires said a budget amendment is needed only if the expenditures run $100,000 over the allotted amount, which he said could happen if prices continue to rise.

If that happens, Acting Superin­tendent James Whitson said, money would have to be borrowed from reserve funds but replaced by possibly cutting jobs or programs next year.

“There is no other pot of money,” he said. “It’s what other things are you going to cut? You can’t gain money in fixed expenses, so the only place that you’re really gaining money is you cut programs or you cut people, and we’re at that point.”

Whitson said the system saw a little relief in energy costs because of the mild winter, which reduced heating expenses. The system was also able to use fuel money left over from last year, when it budgeted $1.93 million for gas.

Richmond County school board member Jack Padgett Jr. said the district contracts with a futures company to purchase gas, and the price fluctuates based on the market. The district most recently paid $3.52 per gallon, compared with $3.31 last year.

The Columbia County School System has seen a similar increase in fuel costs, although Comptroller Pat Sullivan said expenses are not likely to go over budget.

“It’s going to be close, but I think we’ll break even,” she said.

The school system budgeted $1.3 million for fuel this year, $200,000 more than last year because of the high prices reached by summer.

So far, Columbia County schools have spent $990,000 on gas, compared with $718,000 this time last year.

AAA Georgia spokeswoman Angie LaPlant said the price increases are mostly caused by escalated tensions in Iran, concerns about a new war in the Middle East and the Iranian government’s threat to block the Strait of Hormuz.

Because of the approaching summer travel season and the increased speculation, LaPlant said it’s likely gas prices will continue to rise.

“Although we’re seeing a lot of signs of economic improvement, I think that people are still being cautious with their dollars,” she said.

Gas in Augusta averaged $3.685 for regular unleaded Wednesday and $4.113 for diesel, compared with $3.439 and $3.842 a year ago. It was one of the only metropolitan areas in the state to see a price increase from the previous day, LaPlant said.

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211lover 03/14/12 - 07:24 pm
teachers being cut,

teachers being cut, furloughs, out of money for gas... how is this even possible when the lotto is suppose to be giving a trillion bux to schools.. or has that been a lie for a long time? Looks like the government and lotto folks are rolling in the dough and our kids are suffering because of their greed!

Insider Information
Insider Information 03/14/12 - 09:54 pm
211, Georgia can only use

211, Georgia can only use lottery money for pre-k, HOPE and technology. Technology hasn't been funded in a while and booming enrollment has hit HOPE hard.

allaboutlife 03/15/12 - 07:05 am
Money could be saved if they

Money could be saved if they stopped Roundtree from campaigning daily in his BOE assigned vehicle. How is this legal, and how can Clayton allow this.

fiveobike1 03/15/12 - 07:43 am
Here's what i do not

Here's what i do not understand... The BOE is crying and hurting from this gas crisis, however they allow the GHSA to put our schools in a region with Savanah Ga. schools (next year)??? Now we are going to pay for all this EXTRA fuel to drive several times a week to Savanah.. It was brought to their attention and many local schools requested to move into a "super region" with the Columbia County school but this was shot down by two reluctant schools who might not compete as well in this region.. The BOE has no right to complain here..... none at all....

resident 03/15/12 - 07:58 am
OK so why arent schools

OK so why arent schools looking into the same things most big cities have long since done. Natural Gas or propane for their busses. OH thats right they probably have friends that own the fuel company they buy from. It costs about $7K maybe per bus. How long do you think it would take if they did a few at a time to recoup costs. The landfill is producing this and I am sure they could get it off the pipe already at the buildings. There is a way For some reason choosing cleaner more cost effective is not even considered. This is just a quick google example. The same goes for Solar GRID attached systems. No battery necessary because you augment power for the regular source. This would mean that they would use much less power. The savings could more than pay for the teachers and other things I am sure.

puppylov3808 03/15/12 - 11:32 am
Thanks a lot Obama and The

Thanks a lot Obama and The Bilderbergs!

blmartin77 03/15/12 - 11:59 am
The best thing the schools

The best thing the schools systems could do is follow the lead of other counties and shorten the school week to 4 days. 1 less day of bus travel and fuel consumption, 1 less day of food to pay for, and 1 less day of utilities usage to pay for. It seems to be working elsewhere so there is no reason it couldn't work here.

class1 03/16/12 - 07:58 am
Why doesn't the county stop

Why doesn't the county stop wasting money on all the consultants on the school payroll? Also, the state could save lots of money by not allowing former teachers and principals to double dip the system.

brynna29 03/16/12 - 10:29 pm
Students need to do more

Students need to do more walking, both for their health and to save gas. Bus stops should be farther apart and the walking zone around schools should be increased. This will reduce waistlines and costs at the same time.

itsanotherday1 03/16/12 - 11:12 pm
brynna, assuming there are

brynna, assuming there are sidewalks or bike paths, I agree. Unfortunately, there are many areas that have neither.

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