Rising fuel costs hurt school funding

Friday, July 25th 2008, 7:08 pm
By: News 9

by Alex Cameron, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY - Schools may be cutting down on the number of buses because of rising fuel costs.

Superintendent Sandy Garrett said no one anticipated that the cost of diesel fuel would be where it is today, and as a result, school districts will be faced with an additional challenge this year.

In the Putnam City school district, they work year-round to keep their buses in good running order. The district has seen its fuel costs soar almost 450 percent in the last six years. Their costs have risen from 60 thousand dollars to 900 thousand dollars and that money has to come from somewhere.

"Every dollar you have to spend in gas, compared to what you used to have spend on it, is a dollar that you can't put in the classroom, is a dollar you can't put to other instructional purposes," Steve Lindley of the Putnam City school district said.

This past session, lawmakers appropriated 25 million dollars for transportation, while it's estimated fuel alone this school year is going to cost 58 million. That is a shortfall of 33 million dollars.

State Superintendent Sandy Garrett told a PTA gathering today, with food costs also rising, the toll on school districts could be grave.

"Basically they haven't had an operations increase now in four or five years, and so with all of these increases and the stress on their budget, something's got to give," Garrett said.

Garrett said she's hoping lawmakers will make a supplemental appropriation.

"That may not happen. I don't know that that will happen, so in other words, I have really some grave concerns that some schools will close and some services won't be rendered," Garrett said. "It could be that buses may not run in some districts."

Putnam City officials want to make clear that shutting down buses or even just expanding the district's walk boundaries is not something they're considering right now.

"However, if the situation worsens more than we expect, if it hits our budget harder than we expect, then we may have to look at some options like that," officials said.

Superintendent Garrett isn't saying how much of a supplemental she'll ask for, but said she knows there was 85 million dollars left unappropriated by lawmakers last year. She hopes schools will get a chunk of that.

The State Superintendent also said state law doesn't require that school districts provide bus service, but parents expect it and it should be part of any strong public education system.