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Gas prices pose budget problems for Hall County schools

POSTED: May 17, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Fearing the price of fuel could go higher, the Hall County Board of Education is discussing whether to increase the proposed fuel budget for fiscal year 2009.

Jewel Armour, executive director of operations for the school system, told board members Monday night that he had budgeted between $3.90 and $4 per gallon for the coming year’s purchase of 480,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 60,000 gallons of gasoline.

Armour said that presently he is paying $3.62 per gallon of diesel and has averaged $2.84 for the school year. The school system is exempted from paying federal and state taxes on fuel.

Board members questioned whether the system should budget an additional $400,000 for fuel to transport students to and from school.

"It’s one of those things that we think we’re close (on the budget)," said superintendent Will Schofield. "Fuel is so tied to what is happening in the world and what happens with the weather and hurricanes. We could find ourselves $1 million below budget or $1 million short."

Board members are expected to make a final decision when they meet next week.

Meanwhile Armour said he is cautioning drivers to do things to conserve fuel, such as making slower stops and starts and not idling engines while waiting at schools.

The discussion came as board members gave a second look to a proposed $217 million budget for next year. Schofield told the board that the budget, which represents an 8 percent increase from the current year, may result in a .5 to .75 mil increase in property taxes.

He said that for the first time since 2004, the state’s share of the education budget increased by a small percentage. Over the past five years, the state’s contribution to the county for education increased 9.1 percent while the county’s share increased 47 percent.

In 2002, local revenues were $41.1 million compared to $86.6 million from the state. In 2007, the local portion was $72.1 million and the state’s share was $112.8 million.

He said the same was true for school systems throughout the state.

The superintendent told board members that the school system was seeing a slight decline in enrollment. Typically, the count of full-time students in October and March are very close.

"This year we were up 800 students in October and only 400 students in March," Schofield said. "We don’t have a good explanation except the economy and tougher immigration laws. We are hearing that a lot of our recent immigrants are going back to Mexico."

He gave as example, Jones Elementary, which has a significant immigrant student population normally grows between 40 and 70 students annually. This year, the enrollment at Jones is down by 50 students.

Also on Monday, Schofield announced that he was close to an agreement with the Hall County commission for a jointly operated athletic facility at the new high school and middle school complex on Spout Springs Road.

"We’re extremely hopeful that once again we will work together with the county commissioners on sharing facilities, building a joint athletic facility," Schofield said. Both parties would contribute to the cost.

Meanwhile, board members were told that the school systems is looking at the costs of drilling wells to provide irrigation for high school athletic fields.

"They are in pretty tough shape and this isn’t an aesthetic issue. This isn’t that we’d like some green grass and pretty flowers to look at. This is boys and girls out playing on fields that are a safety issue because of the compacted hard surface due to the drought," Schofield said.

Among those in the worst shape is the football field at Flowery Branch High School, which had significant rock formations underneath the playing surface.


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