Gas Prices Tighten the Squeeze on School Budgets

It’s the latest evidence that rising fuel costs are straining school transportation budgets: fewer field trips – with some paid for by students, no idling of the engine in front of buildings, and definitely no sweetheart stops.

“That is an added stop you make for a student’s convenience because their house is on the way home,” says Max Bochman, a bus operator with the Naperville Community Unit School District 203 in Illinois. “In this suburban environment, you might want to save a student a three-block walk.”

Unfortunately, more students must walk extra steps this semester in an effort by school officials to keep gas-guzzling buses from sucking up so much high-priced diesel fuel.

With noticeable spikes since January, fuel has risen in cost by nearly $1 a gallon since this time last year. Prices for regular auto fuel could top $4 by summer, according to consumer reports. Diesel costs approximately 25 cents more than an average gallon of gas.

Along with eliminating unscheduled stops, Naperville has been forced to collect money from students for some field trips – about $5 a head – while encouraging more efficient routes and enforcing a strict no-idling policy.

“There is no idling in front of buildings while waiting for students,” says Bochman, president of the Naperville Transportation Association. “That decision is based more on the rising cost of fuel.”

In Philadelphia, school bus drivers like Chuck Thompson are diligent about Pennsylvania’s anti-idling law, which instructs drivers to shut the engine off if the bus sits idle for at least 5 minutes.

“This helps conserve fuel and emit less exhaust into the atmosphere,” says Thompson, who works for the Radnor School District.

As in Naperville, Thompson says drivers in Radnor are configuring routes for utmost efficiency and making only scheduled stops.

“We might do one stop now instead of two, where it’s possible for a student to walk a little bit,” he says.

Coupled with tight budgets as well as rising fuel costs, Radnor officials have asked parents to pitch in financially as well as help out with late evening sports runs.

“There are more shared costs (with parents) at this time,” says Thompson, the Northeast region director for the National Council of Education Support Professionals.

At a recent school board meeting, Thompson says trustees discussed solutions to expected shortfalls in next year’s budget. Already, the district has laid off three out of 60 bus drivers. The strain on Radnor’s budget is all too familiar to Jolene Tripp of Yucaipa, California.

As bus pass coordinator in the Redands Unified School District Transportation Department, Tripp says recent fuel hikes “add insult to injury.”

“The transportation department has been decimated by budget cuts,” says Tripp, president of Redlands Education Support Professionals Association. “Everything that can be done to us has been done.”

In her district, bus drivers had already lost hours, some up to an hour a day.

“We’re already in a budget crisis,” Tripp says. “When you have already cut everything and you’re still not making it, rising gas prices hurt even more.”

The Brunswick City Schools Board of Directors in Ohio have monitored fuel prices closely and projected pretty well, says Barbara Armour, a district bus driver and member of the board’s financial advisory committee.

“This has been good for everyone — students, employees, and the community as a whole,” she says. “We are taking normal sports trips, for example.”

Schools in the U.S. receive some state funds for transportation costs, but must also rely on local revenue to cover added expenses such as gas price hikes and new purchases.

“We have not purchased buses this year, but our fleet is current,” Armour says. “Mechanics have done a good job of keeping our buses running efficiently.”

Armour says when drivers notice or hear something out of whack on their bus they consult with school mechanics, who respond quickly.

“They do preventive maintenance,” she says.

In some Ohio districts, Armour says busing is down to the state minimum, with parents and school organizations like the booster club “kicking in” for sports-related and other school trips.

“Our school district is solvent,” Armour says. “I can’t say what is going to happen next year, but this year we are making our normal trips.”

  • Just today I received the following timely information from a friend who’d rec’d it from a friend. I don’t know if it’s true (I’m not a chemical engineer), but it makes sense.


    I don’t know what you guys are paying for gasoline…. but here in California we are paying up to $3.75 to $4.10 per gallon. My line of work is in petroleum for about 31 years now, so here are some tricks to get more of your money’s worth for every gallon:

    Here at the Kinder Morgan Pipeline where I work in San Jose, CA we deliver about 4 million gallons in a 24-hour period thru the pipeline.. One day is diesel the next day is jet fuel, and gasoline, regular and premium grades. We have 34-storage tanks here with a total capacity of 16,800,000 gallons.

    Only buy or fill up your car or truck in the early morning when the ground temperature is still cold. Remember that all service stations have their storage tanks buried below ground. The colder the ground the more dense the gasoline, when it gets warmer gasoline expands, so buying in the afternoon or in the evening….your gallon is not exactly a gallon. In the petroleum business, the specific gravity and the temperature of the gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, ethanol and other petroleum products plays an important role.

    A 1-degree rise in temperature is a big deal for this business. But the service stations do not have temperature compensation at the pumps.

    When you’re filling up do not squeeze the trigger of the nozzle to a fast mode If you look you will see that the trigger has three (3) stages: low, middle, and high. You should be pumping on low mode, thereby minimizing the vapors that are created while you are pumping. All hoses at the pump have a vapor return. If you are pumping on the fast rate, some of the liquid that goes to your tank becomes vapor. Those vapors are being sucked up and back into the underground storage tank so you’re getting less worth for your money.

    One of the most important tips is to fill up when your gas tank is HALF FULL. The reason for this is the more gas you have in your tank the less air occupying its empty space. Gasoline evaporates faster than you can imagine. Gasoline storage tanks have an internal floating roof. This roof serves as zero clearance between the gas and the atmosphere, so it minimizes the evaporation. Unlike service stations, here where I work, every truck that we load is temperature compensated so that every gallon is actually the exact amount.

    Another reminder, if there is a gasoline truck pumping into the storage tanks when you stop to buy gas, DO NOT fill up; most likely the gasoline is being stirred up as the gas is being delivered, and you might pick up some of the dirt that normally settles on the bottom.