Schools face fund shortfall for buses

Balto. County principals may have to find $3,400 to cover athletic costs

March 12, 2001|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

High school principals in Baltimore County each will be asked to find more than $3,000 in their budgets by the end of the school year to cover the rising cost of bus transportation for student athletes.

A spike in gasoline prices and a shortage of bus drivers and buses could create a shortfall of $81,500 by the end of the school year, said Ronald J. Belinko, coordinator for athletics.

School system officials plan to ask principals at the county's 24 high schools to make up the difference, he said.

If they can't, some spring sports teams could be asked to share buses or scrimmages could be canceled.

Hairston backs sports

But schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston, a former high school and college athlete, has said he won't sacrifice any sporting events, including scrimmages or practice games.

"Transportation costs were higher than anticipated," said schools spokesman Charles A. Herndon. Still, school officials warn that the $81,500 figure is an estimate. Transportation bills for winter sports are being tallied.

Principals will discuss the issue at a meeting this month, Herndon said. If the shortfall reaches $81,500, high school principals would have to come up with an additional $3,400 each by June 30, the end of the budget year.

That's not a huge amount, said Herndon, considering most high school principals oversee budgets of about $200,000 or more, depending on programs and student enrollment.

At Eastern Technical High School in Essex, Principal Robert Kemmery said he might be able to find the extra money in a reserve fund that is used to pay substitute teachers.

He's adamant about keeping his school's athletics program strong.

"I have a healthy substitute teacher budget because I'm blessed with a healthy staff," he said.

Kemmery, who serves on Hairston's executive cabinet, surveyed several principals last week to see how they might deal with the transportation budget crunch. All of them said they could handle the extra cost, he said.

"It's doable," Kemmery said. "We have some flexibility."

Belinko went to Hairston and the executive cabinet late last week to warn them about the possible shortfall.

Contracting transportation

Part of the problem is that the southeast side of the county doesn't have enough bus drivers or buses for hire, Belinko said.

As a result, school athletic directors must contract with bus companies in other areas. The greater the travel time, the greater the cost.

"Whenever you use a carrier that comes from the other side of the county, they bill you from the time they leave the depot," Belinko said. "That means some schools have had to pay more money for team transportation."

The budget for busing high school athletes represents $580,000 of the school system's $33 million transportation budget, Belinko said.

High school principals use team schedules to estimate the number of bus trips teams will need.

Teams must hire private coach companies because the district's fleet of school buses and drivers can't handle the added strain.

Belinko, like the principals surveyed by Kemmery, is confident that the shortfall can be eliminated.

"It's really not a problem," he said. "This was just an alert that we need to tighten the belt and look at some of the luxuries."

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