District Dossier

Classes Canceled Over Fuel Costs

Tenn. district’s leaders told to make up days.

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Students in a Tennessee school system will have to make up for two days of classes that district leaders said they canceled to save on fuel costs, according to the state education department.

Faced with skyrocketing prices for diesel fuel, the Rhea County district told its 3,800 students to stay home on Friday, April 28, and on Monday, May 1, to reduce spending on transportation.

Superintendent Dallas Smith did not return phone calls, but the county’s finance director, Brad Harris, said the district’s bill for diesel fuel to run its buses was up nearly 40 percent over last year’s.

Canceling school saved about $700 per day, he said, adding that the district budgeted about $145,000 for fuel for this fiscal year, out of a total transportation budget of $1.5 million.

“I think it looked like an opportunity to save the taxpayers some money, and it’s their money,” said Mr. Harris, who oversees the budget of the county government, including the schools.

The Tennessee Department of Education saw it differently. Agency spokeswoman Rachel Woods said the district, which is in a mostly rural area in the state’s eastern region, mistakenly thought it could use leftover snow days.

“In statute, you cannot use snow days for something like gas prices,” she said. “It has to be an actual emergency.”

Ms. Woods said that canceling class was particularly disruptive because high school students are preparing for Advanced Placement tests and teachers are shifting gears with the administration of state assessments.

After hearing about the canceled days, officials of the state department got in touch with district leaders, explained the state regulations, and gave them until the end of last week to submit a plan for making up the lost days.

National observers say they know of no other district that has called off school because of the spikes in fuel costs, but say many are feeling the same squeeze. The average U.S. price of a gallon of diesel is $2.89, up by 63 cents from a year ago.

“When gas prices go up, that money comes from somewhere,” Ronald A. Skinner, the interim executive director of the Reston, Va.-based Association of School Business Officials International, wrote in an e-mail. Mr. Skinner’s group is backing a bill in Congress that would provide additional money for fuel to districts serving the largest number of students in poverty.

Vol. 25, Issue 36, Page 5

Published in Print: May 10, 2006, as Classes Canceled Over Fuel Costs
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