Schools trying to save on fuel use

School districts across the state are struggling with what everyone has been grumbling about all summer: fuel prices.

As school starts this week in Fayette County and nearby counties, districts are shortening bus routes, cutting down on field trips and reducing bus idle time to lessen fuel consumption.

Madison County was one of the few districts in the state that picked up students at their door. This year, only elementary school students will have that service. Middle and high school students will have to go to bus stops. The change ”will save the district a considerable amount of money,“ said Erin Stewart, spokeswoman for Madison County Schools.

The new policy also saves on maintenance costs, Stewart said.

In mostly rural Pike County, students will still be picked up at the door, said Ancie Casey, transportation director. ”That's the standard procedure we've operated on for years.“

But the district is looking to cut costs in other ways.

Pike County, which has about 170 buses and spent about $975,000 on fuel last year, is looking to limit athletic events to within the county and to have bus drivers start routes at home, he said.

In Franklin County, the district has changed its field trip policy – all school-related field trips must be within the county, unless granted special permission. Also, for all sports and academic competitions, events have to be within 50 miles during the week and 75 miles on weekends, said spokesman Wayne Dominick.

Last year, the district enforced an idling procedure and required drivers to turn off buses parked for more than five minutes unless the weather was very cold.

This year, the district expects more bus riders, a trend that began at the end of last year as a result of rising gas prices, said Dominick. If there's an influx of riders, the district will send students on bigger buses, he said.

”We're trying to be more energy conscious in the district, not just with fuel, but with all types of energy,“ Dominick said.

Other districts that have cut down on idling time are Jessamine and Scott counties.

”It's for two reasons – for health reasons, for the students breathing in the exhaust, and to save fuel,“ said Randy Cutright, Scott County schools director of business and finance. Scott County also is looking at changing bus routes to conserve fuel.

Woodford County also is anticipating more students on buses this year, said Mark Lancaster, director of transportation.

”Since the fuel costs are up, we're getting more and more calls about kids riding the bus this year than we've had in the past,“ he said.

Woodford County is looking to cut bus routes and limit field trips, he said.

Several school districts, including Fayette and Bourbon counties, do not pay transportation costs for field trips or extra-curricular activities.

”State law only mandates that districts have the responsibility to transport pupils to and from school for the regular instructional time,“ said Lisa Gross, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education.

In Fayette, the district spent about $1.8 million on fuel costs last year and expects to spend $2.5 million this year.

The district already has an anti-idling policy and changed bus routes last year, said John Kiser, transportation director.

About 15,000 students rode the buses last year, an increase of about 1,000. And the number is expected to go up again this year.

Kiser said bus drivers will look to limit the distance they drive with an empty bus.

”We're basically to the point where there are no other actions that we could take,“ he said. Cutting fuel costs ”is probably the greatest problem that anyone in transportation is facing right now.“