Fuel Costs May Force Schools to Cut Bus Routes
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.
It's the first week of school for millions of American children. About half of them ride the school bus to get to the school building, but the rising cost of diesel fuel--this is a problem compounded by Hurricane Katrina--means that those bus rides will now cost school districts more than they'd planned. That means choices and cuts to be made. From member station KPBS in San Diego, Beth Ford Roth reports.
BETH FORD ROTH reporting:
Julian Union School District in northeast San Diego County is small, so small, in fact, that superintendent Kevin Ogden greets students by name as they get off the bus in front of the district's only elementary school.
Mr. KEVIN OGDEN (Superintendent, Julian Union School District): Morning, Chris(ph). Hi, Julia(ph). Good morning. Did you have a good day yesterday? Good. Hi, Javier(ph).
ROTH: But even though Julian has just 400 students, it covers a big area, more than 620 square miles. From the deserts in the east to the mountains in the north, the miles of roadway the district's six buses must travel add up. Superintendent Ogden says today diesel fuel costs the district 60 percent more than it did a year ago, much more than the number-crunchers anticipated.
Mr. OGDEN: Looking at our budget, we had increased our expenditures by about 25 percent, but realize that now we're going to have that adjustment even greater.
ROTH: Ogden says he's waiting to see how much fuel prices go up this month before making budget cuts in other areas. He says field trips will be eliminated first. The district is also looking at reducing its number of bus stops.
Mr. OGDEN: Now that really is problematic for boys and girls who in some cases are already traveling a distance to get to a bus stop. That will be really a last resort.
ROTH: It's not just small rural districts like the one here in Julian that are getting pinched by rising diesel prices, but also the districts on the other end of the spectrum, the large urban districts, and especially their sports teams.
(Soundbite of football scrimmage)
ROTH: At Patrick Henry High School, football players practice their moves during a preseason scrimmage. Like every high school in the San Diego Unified District, the football team uses buses to get to games. The district buys its diesel in bulk through a contract with the state. Last year it cost $1.47 a gallon; this year, so far, it's up to 2.26. District athletic director Bruce Ward says the increase caught many football coaches off guard.
Mr. BRUCE WARD (Athletic Director, San Diego Unified District): The schedules were made last spring, and you know, if some of the coaches would have known that it was going to cost a little bit more, they probably would have played a few more games closer to home.
ROTH: There will be no increase in the amount of money schools get to spend on bus trips even though costs continue to rise. Ward says the increasing financial burden of fuel prices will end up being shouldered by athletes' parents. They'll have to drive their kids to sporting events and pay for the gas to get them there. That worries Ward, who says it may mean that low-income parents will pull their kids out of sports teams altogether.
Mr. WARD: Both of them working two jobs each. And it's difficult to keep these kids. If we don't keep them out here, they're on the streets. They're on the streets, and you know, there's a lot of good kids out here that this makes a difference for.
ROTH: A recent national survey of school business officials found more than 60 percent said rising fuel prices were hurting their districts, and that was before Hurricane Katrina hit. Now with pipelines and refineries shut down, the problem is only expected to get worse as the school year continues. For NPR News, I'm Beth Ford Roth in San Diego.
CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. We'll be right back with more DAY TO DAY.
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