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Schools riding out Rita on governor's request

By Johnny Jackson and Aisha I. Jefferson

The public schools in Clayton and Henry counties will be closed on Monday and Tuesday.

Gov. Sonny Perdue asked school officials across the state to consider canceling those classes in order to help conserve gasoline as Hurricane Rita threatens the nation's fuel supply line in the gulf, and the two counties responded quickly.

Clayton and Henry counties will treat those days as "snow days" in which no one is to report to work. All buildings will be closed, and all activities are canceled.

The action, though, will not affect any extra curricular activities scheduled for this weekend.

If all of Georgia's schools close, the governor estimated about 250,000 gallons of diesel fuel would be saved each day by keeping buses off the road.

An undetermined amount of regular gasoline could be saved by allowing teachers, other school staff members and some parents to stay home those days, Perdue said. He added that electricity would be conserved by keeping the schools closed.

"In recent weeks, the nation has experienced temporary disruptions of gas supply as a result of Hurricane Katrina. While we cannot predict the future, we do know that effective conservation will be a reliable approach as we anticipate the effects of Hurricane Rita," Perdue stated in a press release Friday. "I'm asking all Georgians to make a sincere effort to conserve gas, and the state of Georgia will lead by example."

This news came just days after a Clayton County School fuel conservation committee, headed by Superintendent Barbara Pulliam, completed the school district's plans to save the natural resource.

"We were anticipating there being a shortage," said Ronnie Blake of Clayton County Schools Department of Transportation. "It's come a little earlier than we expected."

The week of September 19, the district contracted a new fuel supplier. The Fuel Conservation Plan represents the level of restriction applied to bus use in an effort to conserve fuel until the district is re-supplied.

The school district uses approximately 5,000 gallons of fuel each day and receives a 7,600-gallon delivery every other day with a storage capacity of about 18,000 gallons.

Blake summarized the five-tier Fuel Conservation Plan. He said the green level, or Code Green, means normal operations. The blue level, the county's operations until Monday, is a moratorium placed on elective field trips. The third level of fuel conservation is color-coded yellow, meaning schools cancel supplemental athletic activities and only travel for essential athletic venues.

Under the Code Orange, the district cancels all field trips and after-school transportation unless approved by a special review board. The red level is when the district only provides transportation to and from school.

The district will operate under Code Red when students and faculty return on Wednesday, Sept. 28.

"The code red could be in effect through the end of the next week," Blake said. "And we have enough fuel for next week."

McDonough resident Mike Seymour said he is glad the governor is being proactive instead of reactive.

"Last time this came up, the gas was a big nightmare; so he's doing something ahead of time," Seymour said as he picked up his two sons from McDonough Elementary School Friday. "I think it's cool."

Seymour did say, however, he understood how some parents would be upset with having to arrange child care at the last minute. Seymour said he will leave his sons with a friend during the off days.

Given the amount of diesel fuel the governor said will be saved, Roderick Toombs, who also picked up his daughter, Rhyana, 6, from McDonough Elementary, said he thinks the right choice was made to close schools.

"If I had to work on Monday and Tuesdays, it would affect me but since I'm off on those days, it's not a big deal," Toombs said.

On the other hand, Henry County High School junior Tyreika Thomason said, "I'm not excited because I have a chorus concert."