School district feels the pain of rising gas prices

Palm Beach Co. schools spending $6 million on fuel

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - If you’re filling up your car, get ready for a shock. Gas prices are still climbing. In the last week, they’ve gone up about 25 cents a gallon in South Florida. Drivers aren’t the only ones feeling the pain at the pump. The price hike is hitting Palm Beach County School District’s sizeable transportation fleet hard.

Some drivers are seeing gas prices go up right before their eyes.

“It just went up six cents while I was standing here,” said Hal Friedman, watching the attendant changing the price of regular unleaded from $3.35 a gallon to $3.41 a gallon at one West Palm Beach service station.

Kelly DeSumma is trying to keep her SUV parked.

“I've been trying to take the smaller car because of the prices being a lot higher," she explained.

"Outrageous,” said Charles Olivier of West Palm Beach. “It’s very, very terrible." It’s not that I drove unnecessarily, but certainly I will be limiting what I do.”

For many people, filling up one or two gas tanks is expensive. What if you were responsible for more than 1,700 fuel tanks? That's exactly what the Palm Beach County School District is facing. The district has 1,720 vehicles, including more than 650 school buses. Every day, these buses take more than 60,000 students to and from school. That costs the district about $6 million a year in fuel.

"We have a little bit of extra money built into our budget in case gas prices would go up,” explained Pete DiDonato, the Palm Beach County School District Transportation Manager, “but if they go up drastically, we don't have that kind of money built into our budget."

DiDonato said this school year, the district has consolidated or eliminated about 100 bus routes. Even minor rerouting can add up to significant savings.

"(It) probably saves $30,000, getting a bus off the road," he said.

Still, if fuel prices continue to go up, school officials could have to make tough choices.

"If gas prices continue to rise, something will have to be done," he added.

The school district’s options include allocating more money into the next budget for fuel and continuing to consolidate bus routes.


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