Sunday, June 24, 2007

High Fuel Prices Pinching Schools

Bartlesville, OK Examiner-Enterprise: Rising Fuel Costs Affect School Districts
Rising fuel costs in recent years have affected local school districts as hopes for increased funding — to pay for these rising costs — are met with meager operational funding increases for this next school year.

Local school administrators compare the amounts their districts spent on fuel in 2003 to the amounts spent today.

In 2003, the Bartlesville Public Schools district paid $55,745 for diesel and $15,306 for gasoline. So far this year, the district had spent a total of $158,266 on fuel — $106,980 for diesel and $51,286 for gasoline.

The increase is probably enough to pay for a teacher's salary and benefits. That's a big chunk to lose from a small school district's budget. The hard thing is there isn't that much that realistically can be done with the vehicles to boost fuel economy. The low number of miles a small city bus will run makes the per mile cost of hybridization impractical. Given School Bus safety standards weight cutting opportunities are very limited. I could see using automated manual transmissions or well trained drivers and manual transmissions in place of the normal Allison automatic but there are problems there as well (unfamiliar tech and a shrinking pool of people willing to use a manual). School busses are usually specced with a pretty small motor so there isn't much to cut there.

There isn't much in the way of alt-fuels tech that's ready to roll. Tulsa used to use Compressed Natural Gas for their busses but given high and volatile Natural Gas prices in the last few years that's not a winner. I suppose an ethanol fueled gasser might almost make sense for low mileage runs in states that subsidize E85. It wouldn't do better from an MPG stance but you'd probably save $10K in initial costs, come out about even on maintenance, and be buying a bit cheaper fuel (of course that depends on the state continuing to subsidize it).

There are other tweaks around driver behavior (no idling, doing pretrips, progressive shifting, and planning ahead) but those are probably marginal changes (less than 5%).

The real meat of the issue is going to come to either raising taxes (for districts that control their own funding),cutting funds from somewhere else in the budget, or reducing service.

No comments: