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School budgets take hit from high fuel prices

With the rising cost of the average barrel of crude oil, gas prices are following suit and the increase is putting a strain on many aspects of life in Harrison County. The Corydon Democrat will chronicle the impact of the higher prices, and this week’s focus is on public school corporations.
‘It’s going to hurt, that’s for sure,’ said Dr. Ken Oppel, assistant superintendent and transportation director of the North Harrison Community School Corp.
The corporation just completed its fuel bids, and in every case ‘ fuel oil, unleaded and diesel gasoline ‘ there was an increase in the price than the price set for the 2007-08 school year.
Fuel oil increased $1.82, from $2.42 to $4.24, resulting in a total increase of $100,174. Unleaded gasoline went from $2.59 last year to $3.88 this year, with an increase of $6,366. And diesel shot up $1.87 from last year, from $2.67 to $3.88. That will be a total increase of $66,500 in costs to the school system based in Ramsey.
Those are based on a firm bid, not on an escalating bid which would fluctuate with the market. Oppel said the board debated that issue, settling on the firm bid since that would mean the school board would have an idea of what they will pay.
And pay they will, particularly in diesel purchasing.
‘It’s a major hit there,’ Oppel said.
And it’s not just transportation costs. At Morgan Elementary and North Harrison Middle schools, boilers and fuel oil are used to heat the buildings, and those prices are going up, too.
‘There is going to be a drastic increase in energy costs,’ Oppel said.
There is little to be done to offset that cost. Oppel said they’ll be looking into energy conservation in their buildings, including something like turning down (or up) the thermostat. Temperature settings could decrease the costs for the corporation, Oppel said, but, as of now, nothing has been decided for sure.
‘It’s difficult for us, just like it’s difficult for homeowners, businesses,’ Oppel said. ‘We’re all in this together.’
Sam Gardner, interim superintendent at Lanesville Community School Corp., can commiserate. Lanesville currently operates nine buses and one mini-van, serving Franklin Township, but Gardner said Lanesville’s fuel costs have gone up ‘significantly.’
‘It is a major issue,’ he said.
Like Oppel, Gardner said Lanesville will be looking at ways to cut fuel costs. Gardner gave one example of watching the number of field trips that are taken through the year.
Gardner also explained about another element of life in Harrison County that could take a direct hit from increased fuel costs: property taxes.
On Jan. 1, a school corporation’s general operating fund is slated to become entirely state funded, instead of being funded by local property taxes. That fund includes teacher salaries and maintenance costs. It does not include transportation costs, which comes from another fund that will not include any state reimbursement. Gardner said that the increasing cost of fuel, and now the state’s takeover of the general operating fund, may cause many taxpayers to see an increase in their property taxes. This is in addition to the 1 percent-increased sales tax enacted to help lift the burden of property taxes, as well.
Gardner said he isn’t sure people will be paying more in taxes, but it’s probably just a shift in taxes rather than relief.
Sam Day, transportation director at South Harrison Community School Corp., agrees with the sentiments of Oppel and Gardner.
‘It’s definitely going to affect us,’ he said.
South Harrison has not yet gone through its fuel bidding process, but Day acknowledged that when they do entertain bids in July, there would more than likely be a significant increase in costs.
‘It’s definitely going to be higher,’ he said, ‘and that gets into everybody’s budget.’
Day said for South Harrison, a big increase would be coming to them through the purchase of diesel fuel, since all their schools are heated from LP gas. The buses are all diesel.
Despite the costs, Day said it’s unclear what, if anything, would be cut.
‘As of right now, we’re not cutting any athletics or field trips,’ Day said.