Schools' Fuel Costs Turn Up The Heat Under Budget

November 15, 1990|By Dianne Williams Hayes | Dianne Williams Hayes,Staff writer

It would take a Miami heat wave this winter or retreat by Saddam Hussein to give the county school system any significant relief from its already overextended heating and gas budget.

School officials find themselves $2 million in the red and are looking at a possible 70 percent utility increase for next school year.

This year's $1.6 million fuel oil budget for 121 county school buildings is projected to go over budget by $1.5 million. The $14.7 million bus contract, which includes gasoline, will need an additional $500,000 to keep 451 buses rolling.

The 63 cents per-gallon one-year fuel oil contract with Easton-based J.

E. Meintzer & Sons expired Oct. 12. Bids submitted since that time have ranged from $1.09 to $1.25 per gallon.

"The likelihood is probably zero of getting that type of contract again," said Robert Reese, supervisor of operations, of the expired contract. "The bids came in too high, and are being sent back out again.

"At the same time bids were being reviewed, we had the opportunity to buy 300,000 gallons as a one-time purchase at $1.04 per gallon. That was 5 cents a gallon lower than the lowest bid price for delivery in October and November."

Despite the lack of a contract, Reese said there is virtually no chance that schools will be without fuel.

"We do have a substantial inventory," Reese said. "We will not run out of oil -- weather dependent. We track our oil usage weekly. Every Thursday morning, every school in the county calls in dip stick readings. We know from history, we use about 3.1 million gallons per year. It sounds like a lot, but we are covering a lot of buildings."

Reese expects a decision on a fuel contract within the next 30 days.

However, he and his staff are not ruling out the possibility of making another spot-market purchase on their own.

The fluctuating oil prices are playing havoc with next year's budget, too.

"The budget request for 1991-1992 school year will be approximately $3.1 million, based on getting fuel (oil) prices around $1.04 per gallon," Reese said.

"We're getting projections that the prices are not expected to drop for the next 12 months. It's a volatile market. The political situation is driving the world market."

Meanwhile a task force will present cost-saving recommendations to the school board during the 7:30 p.m. meeting Monday night.

"The staff will talk to the board about alternatives of turning down the heat and doing some different things in transportation," budget officer Jack White said. "We're not going to save $2 million dollars, but we are going to try to save as much as we can. The county government has asked us to look within our budget to solve our energy problems."

Last year, the school board used a $700,000 surplus to offset unanticipated expenses. No such surplus exists this year.

"It was a mild year and we had good prices for fuel," White said. "But this year, since August the prices have been shooting up. We will be recommending to the board several things and will be doing everything we can to show the county and public that we can balance our budget."

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