School & District Management

Worries About Spot Fuel Shortages Keep Districts on Edge

By Mark Lieberman — November 04, 2022 2 min read
A diesel pump is pictured in front of a Tooele County School District bus, which holds about a hundred gallons of fuel, at a state fueling center in Tooele, Utah, on Friday, March 18, 2022.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The owner of a gas station in rural Campbell County, Tenn., called David Seals on Halloween Day with an urgent message: Get your school buses here by 4 p.m., or you’ll pay 16 cents more per gallon for diesel fuel.

Seals, a school bus driver whose company contracts with the Campbell County district in the Appalachian Mountains, obliged. Two weeks earlier, he had received an alert from Mansfield, a fuel distributor, of possible diesel fuel shortages in the area. The next day, as if on cue, two of the six stations in his area were out of diesel.

“You had everybody trying to stockpile, which really exacerbates the problem,” Seals said. “That just caused a scare.”

The stations might have been out for reasons completely unrelated to a broader regional shortage. But the looming possibility of a lack of access to affordable fuel is a headache for the vast majority of school districts that rely on diesel to power their buses.

These challenges don’t affect everyone all the time. Many districts stockpile fuel at the start of the school year. An increasing number of districts in the coming years will have electric buses that circumvent these problems.

And fuel shortages are often highly localized. The diesel shortage alert Seals saw covered much of the Southeast. But several district leaders in states like Virginia and North Carolina tell Education Week a fuel shortage isn’t on their radar.

In rural areas like Campbell County’s Jacksboro, though, the effects of fuel shortages, and the price spikes that come with them, can be painful for districts.

One-third of families who live in the district qualify for food-stamp benefits. The median household income in the Campbell County district is $48,000, or $15,000 below the state average.

In addition to operating buses and hiring drivers for the 5,100-student Campbell County district, Seals and his wife both teach and drive buses themselves.

They interact every day with children who will go hungry if not for the food the school provides.

Many parents in the area work two jobs or live on meager fixed incomes. Some students who volunteer at a nearby food bank to meet community-service obligations also have parents who pick up groceries from there. A local church twice a week drops off food for students to take home.

All of this weighs on Seals as he watches the cost of business continue to rise.

“If you have to be home to watch your kids, if you can’t go out and provide, let me make sure your kids are taken care of,” Seals said.

In past years, Seals’ company has paid off its debts from the previous school year by December and has $10,000 in its checking account, and another $10,000 in reserves. So far this year, even with a $10,000 fuel supplement from the district, his reserves are empty. If a bus breaks down, he doesn’t have money to pay for repairs.

Inflation has driven up the cost of living in the area, which means Seals has had to raise wages for his drivers, who include a school resource officer, a cafeteria worker, and two recent retirees.

Meanwhile, the demand for Seals’ services is only growing. Before the pandemic, he typically transported 60 students a day on his bus. Now that number has grown to 85 or 90.

Seals worries about the possibility that urban centers like Oak Ridge and Knoxville would get priority access to diesel if shortages worsen—and that schools in general will be passed over in favor of trains and ships.

“We’d be an afterthought in Appalachia,” he said.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Privacy & Security Webinar
K-12 Cybersecurity in the Real World: Lessons Learned & How to Protect Your School
Gain an expert understanding of how school districts can improve their cyber resilience and get ahead of cybersecurity challenges and threats.
Content provided by Microsoft
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Trauma-Informed Schools 101: Best Practices & Key Benefits
Learn how to develop a coordinated plan of action for addressing student trauma and
fostering supportive, healthy environments.
Content provided by Crisis Prevention Institute
Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Learn to Talk to Each Other Again: 4 Tips for Schools
Schools can play a vital role in helping all of us begin talking to each other again in more civil, meaningful ways.
3 min read
Three individuals connected by jigsaw puzzle speech bubbles over their heads.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
School & District Management Video Tools Don't Have to Distract. Five Tips Show School Leaders How to Harness Them
Newsletters and announcements don’t always do the trick. Principals can use videos to improve their relationships with students.
4 min read
Image of a woman recording herself.
fizkes/iStock/Getty
School & District Management Quick Hacks: How Schools Can Cut Costs and Help the Environment
Schools can take advantage of tax credits and grants offered in the climate change spending package Congress passed this year.
3 min read
Newly installed solar panels stretch out along the north side of Madison-Grant High School near Fairmount, Ind., on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017.
Newly installed solar panels stretch out along the north side of Madison-Grant High School near Fairmount, Ind., on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017.
Jeff Morehead/The Chronicle-Tribune via AP
School & District Management How This Principal Uses TikTok and YouTube to Build School Culture
A Louisiana principal has found that short videos reinforce what’s happening in the classrooms.
8 min read
Tight crop of hands typing on a laptop overlaid with a window that includes a video play button and red progress bar.
iStock/Getty Images Plus