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Hall, Gainesville schools save thousands due to low fuel prices
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The diesel pump sits ready for the next bus driver to fuel up Tuesday at the Hall County bus shop in Gainesville. The older buses use diesel while newer buses use propane. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Everyone is saving money this winter with the low fuel costs, but no one more than local school systems.

Both Hall County and Gainesville City schools have saved thousands this winter compared to fuel expenses last year.

In Gainesville City Schools, an average of 6,200 gallons of fuel is used monthly, according to transportation director Jerry Castleberry.

“We are saving quite a bit,” he said.

Castleberry said Gainesville City Schools have approximately 50 buses, which run on diesel, while four activity buses run on gasoline. In Hall County, 30 buses run on natural gas, while nearly 300 run on diesel.

“We have a fleet of about 300, but about 230 of them are on routes,” said Jewel Armour, director of operations for Hall County Schools. “We provide activity buses for middle and high school, and you have to have buses for substitute drivers as well. So these prices have made a big difference.”

The districts purchase their fuel in bulk. Hall County has five 10,000-gallon tanks and purchases fuel in loads of about 7,500 gallons.

“We have people that monitor our tanks every day and they give us a stick reading,” Armour said. “We calculate how much we have left in the tank and when we get to the point when we can hold another 7,500 gallons, we purchase more.”

Castleberry said, on average, Gainesville spends about $30,000 a month on fuel, but it has saved over $10,000 per month this winter.

Armour said the county district averages nearly $130,000 monthly on diesel fuel and approximately $19,000 monthly on natural gas. Last October, it spent approximately $114,000 and last December, it spent only $90,000.

“Part of that is because December is a shorter month for us,” he said. “... But it’s still a pretty good difference.”

The cost of fuel is significantly lower this winter than previous winters. Castleberry said in December 2012, the city school district paid $3.56 per gallon of diesel. In December 2013, it paid $3.26 per gallon, and this past December, the cost was $2.63 per gallon.

Today, the cost is $2.03 per gallon.

Armour said the price per gallon has averaged about 89 cents lower this winter.

“When it was down the lowest, we bought some for $1.83 a gallon,” Armour said. “Now that was in December, and that was when it was probably at the lowest it’ll be.”

Though the price is likely to begin climbing again, both Armour and Castleberry said it’s been beneficial for the school districts to save more than usual this winter.

“It’s been a real blessing for us,” Castleberry said. “For everybody, really.”