Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Hurricane Katrina And Schools: Collateral Damage

Hurricane Katrina is negatively impacting schools in a variety of ways. One of them is the high cost of fuel. What is going-on in the state of Iowa is typical of the challenges that districts are facing while coping with these unexpected costs:
As long as gas prices continue to escalate, school districts have no choice but to absorb the additional cost, officials say.

Mike Bell, director of transportation for the Council Bluffs Community School District, called it an ongoing situation that school officials can't do much about.

"There really aren't any other options," Bell said. "I think as far as our bus routes, we're about as efficient as efficient can be."

Whether it's a large school district such as Council Bluffs, or a smaller rural district such as Atlantic, administrators agree the price for gas is going to make a sizable dent in this year's budget.

"I'm sure it's going to make a big increase in our budget this year," said Barb Nelson, business manager in the Atlantic School District.

Bell said the district's fuel contract is tied to a base price of $1.74 per gallon, and they are responsible for the difference.

On average, the district receives its fuel shipment of 5,000 gallons every two weeks. With gas prices at $3 or more, Bell said the difference picked up by the district is sizable.

"With gas at $3 per gallon, that means we're having to pay $1.25 extra on 5,000 gallons," he said.

Normally, the 5,000-gallon shipment would cost $8,700. Throw in the difference of $6,250 for the additional $1.25 per gallon the district is responsible for, and the Council Bluffs School District must now pay $14,950 for the same shipment.

Like many, Bell hopes to see the cost drop. If the $3 per gallon trend continues for the next year, the district would have to pay an additional $125,000 for gas.But it's necessary, Bell said, so the district's 61 buses can continue to run.

Atlantic's middle school principal, Todd Rocker, said there's been no current discussions about how to handle current busing routes and activities.

"Obviously with the cost of gas, it makes the cost of running those things that much higher," Rocker said, "and it's going to eat into everyone's budget."
To some degree or another, most districts around the country rely on busses to transport their students, so nearly all are being negatively impacted by the high cost of diesel and gasoline. Even though schools can cut-back on "optional" transportation expenses such as field trips, many (but not all) of a typical district's transportation requirements are "fixed," as they involve ferrying students from home to campus and back again.

Districts will need to reduce expenses somewhere else in order to offset the shortfall. Without a doubt, what that almost always means (in the real world) is cutting some academic or extra-curricular programs that will directly affect students.

I hope that federal and state governments will step-up and help public schools defray these unexpected expenses by reimbursing affected districts. Children shouldn't have to pay the price for this unforeseen "spike" in gas prices.

Kids need field trips too!

Update: (PM) The United States Department of Education has put up a web page where schools that have accepted students displaced by the hurricane may make their urgent requests for resources known to the public as well as what companies and the public can donate to schools serving displaced children:
Many schools are accepting students who cannot attend their own schools because of Hurricane Katrina. If your school is serving students displaced by the hurricane and if you need books, clothes, or other supplies, please state what you need. The name of your school, its address, and what you need will be posted on the What Schools Need page.

If you are a company or organization that is looking to send books, clothes, or other supplies to a school serving students displaced by Hurricane Katrina, please state what supplies you can provide. The supplies you can provide, along with your organization's name and contact information, will be posted on the What Organizations Are Offering Schools page.

If you would like to contribute to the general relief effort, you can make a donation to the American Red Cross.
Let's continue to remember the victims and relief workers in our thoughts and prayers.
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