Clayton schools easing some restrictions on gas use

By Jeffery Whitfield

The Clayton County School System recently eased fuel restrictions enacted as part of a plan developed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The measures are part of a fuel conservation plan that includes provisions for the availability of bus transportation based on the amount of fuel available. The plan was developed by school officials at the end of August in the wake of recent hurricanes, which many feared would adversely affect fuel supplies.

School officials already have suspended remaining athletic events for seventh and ninth graders such as football games as part of conservation measures put in place to save money for fuel, according to Charles White, a spokesperson for the Clayton County School System. Elective field trips also were canceled, he said.

“We did not anticipate the impact hurricanes would have in the Georgia area,” White said, adding that school systems across the state also likely were impacted by fuel shortages.

Under the plan, green -- or the lowest level -- represents the school system functioning at a level with fewer athletic bus trips. Red is the most severe level and only includes transportation for students to and from school.

The school system had reached condition yellow, which includes restrictions on field trips as well as the reduction of bus transportation to supplemental athletic events such as football games. Bus transportation to supplemental athletic events would be approved by the county athletic director, according to the plan. This month the school system returned to operating at the green level.

About 5,000 gallons of fuel are used each day for buses and 7,600 gallons are delivered to schools every other day for usage, according to the plan. The schools have a storage capacity of 18,000 gallons, the plan said.

The plan utilizes a color coded system featuring green, blue, yellow, orange and red.

Under the plan, restrictions are applied to bus use if there is a need for conservation due to a lack of fuel.

According to the plan, the school system has not had a fuel shortage, but “had a contract with a supplier that did not have enough drivers to deliver the fuel to us; therefore we were told they could not guarantee that fuel would be delivered to us in time to keep our fleet running.”

School officials then contacted other fuel delivery companies, the Governor's office and other contacts before finding a supplier in September, the plan said.

Once a supplier was found, delivery of 15,200 gallons of fuel was confirmed - “enough to keep our fleet running for three more days,” the plan said. The school system has enough storage capacity to keep fuel to operate buses for three days and goes through an order process for fuel every two days.

“When you're riding to school, it's not the ride of comfort -- it's the ride of efficiency,” said Ericka Davis, chairman of the Clayton County Board of Education.

Ms. Davis said the transportation restrictions led to cramped trips for students traveling on buses to high school football games at local schools such as North Clayton High School.

Buses hold about 45 students and frequently students would travel on buses with their instruments.

Ms. Davis said school officials were exploring options that would help ease future transportation burdens stemming from fuel shortages.

“We're looking at alternative methods of transportation,” she said, adding that one idea would add more refueling stations closer to schools for buses to use. The school system currently uses one station to refuel buses.

School officials track the cost per gallon of the amount of fuel used in each of its districts, White said.

The school system paid $2.44 per gallon for fuel excluding taxes in September, White said. Results are the most recent statistics available.

Gov. Sonny Perdue placed a moratorium on state fuel taxes in September to account for fuel shortages in the wake of hurricane Katrina.

White said the amount paid per gallon would be higher if the moratorium hadn't been put in place.

Measures have also been proposed that could affect how school system employees

School employees and administrators who routinely travel to schools now receive a monthly travel allowance to help offset the cost of fuel. The cost ranges from $25 to $100 per month, White said.

However, school officials are considering a proposal that could provide employees with funding that would pay for fuel on a per mile basis, he said. The proposal could reimburse employees with 48 cents per mile to pay for fuel.

“The proposed amount is over and above the [current] amount for gas allowance,” he said, adding that the proposal could be adopted as part of mid-year budget adjustments.

The proposal could be discussed again this month or in November when the school system's budget committee meets again, White said.

The school system has a total of 52,700 students with a budget of $456,116,000 for the current fiscal year.