High Fuel, Energy Costs Stress School Budgets

SNOW HILL – High fuel and energy costs are affecting Worcester County schools, the Board of Education reported to the Worcester County Commissioners Tuesday, possibly pushing some school operations over their allocated budgets.

School bus transportation, energy and utility costs have all risen in response to the high cost of fuel. The school also reported that plan maintenance and special education costs might go over budget this year.

“This is a routine letter,” Worcester County Administrator Gerry Mason told the commissioners Tuesday morning.

State law requires school systems to report any possible overrun in each of 13 budget categories to the county government.

 “We’ve done this in the past, usually sometime in November,” said Worcester County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes explained later.

The school board is not asking the county for funds, Mason assured the commissioners. The school system will transfer available funds from other budget categories to cover the overage in the spring. The schools have managed to save funds in some categories in recent years and should be able to find those savings again.

“Because of the costs of diesel fuel, we’re providing a supplement to our bus contractors,” Andes said.

If the cost of a gallon of diesel fuel exceeds $2.90, under the bus drivers’ contract, the school board pays them an additional fee.

“It’s been going up every month,” said Commission President Jim Purnell, a long time bus driver.

The cost of diesel fuel is hovering around $3.50 per gallon.

“In the case of the operation of plant category, it’s utility costs,” Andes said.

Home heating oil has gone up 30 percent, he said. Some school buildings use oil heat.

The higher cost of fuel has also increased electricity and propane costs.

All these increases have an impact on the school system, Andes said, despite bidding out energy contracts.

“What’s driving our costs is the cost of energy,” Andes said. “We know it’s going to increase.”

Special Education costs have gone up with the increased number of students, some with specialized medical needs.

Building maintenance costs have increased as heating, ventilating and cooling systems age and break down.

“Every year we ask for increases in the allocation for maintenance,” Andes said.

Worcester County is 23rd out of 24 Maryland school districts in maintenance allocations.