N’hampton seeks to trim fuel costs

Published 2:18 pm Wednesday, August 13, 2008

JACKSON – School systems all across the state are feeling the affects of high gas prices.

The Northampton County Public School System is no different.

At a recent Northampton County Board of Education meeting, Assistant Superintendent Phil Matthews explained to board members the current fuel situation for both state and county levels.

Matthews said based upon the current diesel fuel price it is estimated that it will take in excess of $50 million worth of fuel to operate school buses across the state during this upcoming school year.

State legislators have budgeted $31 million statewide for school bus fuel for the 2008-2009 school year.

Due to the shortage in state funding, local public schools will need to make adjustments to recoup the difference.

“Northampton County Schools will be looking closely at pro-active strategies to address this situation,” said Matthews. “Strategies may include, but not limited to, bus routing changes, combining bus routes, reducing the number of buses operated and, perhaps, staggering school operating times.”

Matthews continued by saying one strategy that will be implemented will be to strictly enforce the existing school board policy concerning no idling of buses.

Research into what strategy will produce the greatest amount of fuel savings with the least amount of inconvenience is still on going, according to Matthews.

In the past, Northampton County Schools has operated their bus fleet within the funds allocated by the state and has maintained a high efficient rating.

“This history of efficient operation has been rewarding over the years, but it makes additional conservation of school bus fuel a difficult task,” said Matthews. “It is hard to reduce when you are already operating as efficiently as possible.”

Matthews also addressed a concern for locally operated activity buses.

“Strategies are being created to stay within the local budget for fuel for activity buses for the 2008-2009 school year,” said Matthews. “Eliminating non-essential trips on local operated activity buses will likely create some inconveniences as well.”

Board members responded to Matthews report voicing concerns about staggered school times and having “town hall” meetings to inform parents of possible rerouting.

School Board member Erica Ingram-Smith noted currently on the western part of the county there were two buses for elementary, middle and high school students. She asked if those routes would be combined.

Matthews said yes, if the option produced savings to the school system.