0307GASAUDJewel Armour, who oversees transportation for the Hall County school system, talks about the high cost of keeping school buses running on the roads.
GAINESVILLE — How’s this for the rising cost of fuel?
Four years ago, the Hall County school system budgeted $450,000 for fuel costs.
Today, as the system prepares to knit together a budget for fiscal 2008-09, which begins July 1, transportation chief Jewel Armour said he estimates the cost of fuel, mostly diesel for its fleet of 200 buses, to run about $2 million.
"I don’t know if $2 million (next year) is enough. It’s just a guess," he said.
Jerry Castleberry, who oversees bus operations for the Gainesville school system, said he expects the district will have to spend 40 percent more on fuel.
"We’re looking at cutting out some of our out-of-town field trips ...
and even some of the trips where we were taking two buses," Castleberry said. "We’re going to make sure we’re maximizing the space on one bus."
The system also will be looking again at its routes to see "if we can reduce some of the (bus) stops," he said
Concerns are rising because of reports of larger demand for and smaller supply of gas.
Oil prices hit a record $105.10 a barrel Thursday, a day after a surprise drop in U.S. crude supplies and a decision by OPEC not to boost production.
Some analysts expect prices to rise to near $4 a gallon as summer driving picks up.
School systems typically get their fuel at a cheaper price, based on wholesale prices and bought in bulk.
Castleberry didn’t have fuel costs available for this budget year, but he did say that the system was paying $2.90 per gallon for diesel as of December.
"We’re looking at right at $300,000 for diesel fuel" and $41,000 for gas next fiscal year, he said.
Fuel costs make up less than 1 percent of school budgets, which are consumed with many other expenses, particularly employee salaries and benefits.
The Hall school system’s total transportation budget is about $8.8 million, or about 4 percent of the general fund.
"We tried to find a way to book several years worth of fuel when oil was in the $55 a barrel range," said Superintendent Will Schofield.
"Government regulations would not allow us to do so, saying that was speculation with public funds. It appeared to us it was simply guaranteeing an affordable price for our future fuel prices."
Armour said that getting a feel for future fuel prices is tricky business.
"Trying to predict it is kind of hard to do, with prices as they fluctuate," he said. "... How do you predict that stuff? How do you budget (it)?"
The last diesel the county system bought cost $3.12 per gallon, including taxes, Armour said.
"We were as low as $2.30 last August," he added. "It has constantly gone up since that time."
The school system budgeted $1.7 million for fuel this fiscal year, which ends June 30.
"I thought we would be under that (by June 30) and I still think we probably will be, just slightly," Armour said. "We’ve had a pretty good year based on our projections and stuff.
However, "if (fuel prices go) to $4 a gallon, it’s going to push us close," he said.