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      Fuel prices costly for local school districts

      Local school districts are getting hit hard by rising gas prices right now. With oil prices crashing through the $100 per barrel mark, the prospects for the future are not much better.

      The Liverpool school district busses about 7,000 students each day, and the district has a fleet of about 100 busses. Superintendent Dr. Richard Johns says the district plans for the worst case scenario when it comes to fuel prices.

      "If we're going to heat buildings and run busses, we have to put fuel in them," says Johns.

      The district's transportation director, Bob Peters, says the district budgeted for $3.50 a gallon for diesel fuel. Right now, it's paying about $3.00 per gallon, but prices are only expected to get worse. For now, though, the district is within its budget. Peters says the district has to buy diesel fuel every 15 days.

      To compensate for the rising prices and declining state aid, the district has consolidated its bus routes this year. Peters says between 500-1000 bus stops were eliminated. Dr. Johns says, even so, the district made sure no elementary schooler has to walk more than .2 miles to their bus stop, and no secondary student has to walk more than .3 miles. Peters says the new bus routes have saved the district $48,000 in fuel alone so far this year.

      Still, the district is looking at more ways to save money. One suggestion is to evaluate weekend travel to see if some of those trips can be eliminated. Dr. Johns says they can be costly.

      The North Syracuse district is also considering ways to save money. Right now, if fuel prices stay the same, the district will have a surplus in its diesel budget. Director of Transportation Michael Janisch says the district budgeted for $2.90 per gallon for diesel and is paying $3.04. However, prices were low at the beginning of the school year, so the district was able to get ahead. That could change if prices keep going up.

      Janisch says right now, drivers are encouraged not to idle their busses to save money. He also says drivers are trained to save fuel in small ways, like accelerating or stopping their busses more slowly.

      "Budgets are very, very tight," Janisch says. "Any way possible to save dollars, we have to look at. We need to do that."

      Janisch says a transportation policy review group has been formed to study whether bus routes can be consolidated or if more students can walk to school. They expect to have a plan to the board of education by the end of the month.