MAKING CENTS: Transportation costs create a pinch

Editor’s note: This is the third of a four-part series that will explain school funding cuts against decisions to maintain, renovate and grow schools in Whitley County.Tug of war. That is the game school administrations are playing with the state. No area has been affected more than in the category of transportation. In recent years, fuel costs have skyrocketed and left schools with little-to-no way of covering the added expense.Since the state declared that charging transportation costs to students was unconstitutional, property taxes are the only revenue source for this line item. The Transportation Fund is used to pay bus driver’s wages and benefits along with fuel and repairs.The gap in this category is both deep and wide. Fuel falling shortNo doubt each driver hears the dollars draining into their gas tanks when making a stop to fill up at the pump. But consider the cost if the vehicle being topped off with fuel only rates five to seven miles to the gallon. This is the situation business managers and transportation directors face each day.Whitko Community School (WCS) Superintendent Steve Clason said he is constantly working with fellow administrators to overcome transportation demands. Whitley County Consolidated Schools (WCCS) Business Manager Tony Zickgraf said, “The gas prices have made us suffer tremendously. July of 2012 we paid $3.04 for diesel. In 2010 it was .69 less. We have seen $3.07 in 2012 for regular fuel when in 2012 we saw prices of $2.34. That is a 73-cent increase. The fuel cost has made a huge impact on our budget. When you take those numbers, factor in the amount of fuel one bus takes to get from Point A to Point B and multiply that times the amount of buses we have as well as the days in a school year – that is a lot of money.”According to Zickgraf, .14 of the tax rate goes to the Transportation Fund. At Smith-Green Community Schools (SGCS), Business Manager and Transportation Director Todd Fleetwood said, “Three years ago, we had to use money from the General Fund to help the Transportation Fund out. Interim Superintendent Ralph Bailey interjected with, “But now the General Fund is so tight that we don’t have anything to fall back on.”All of the administrators interviewed had a common feeling that there is a disconnect between the local schools and the state legislatures making decisions on behalf of schools.Fleetwood said, “The state now tells us that we have a fleet and here is the budget from Indy, but we could have a bus with a lot of mileage of maintenance, and they don’t know that.”Clason said that Whitko is having to become creative in order to stretch the dollars. According to officials, WCCS has not given bus drivers a raise in pay in four years.Zickgraf said that WCCS instituted a fee for field trips. If the trip or outing wasn’t directly tied to curriculum or an IHSAA activity, the trip was going to cost.“We charge for the bus, the driver wages, and .50 cents a mile for the vehicle,” Zickgraf said. “Does that mean some teachers will reconsider their trips? Yes, it probably will, but bottom line is if they want to go, they will find the money for it. Our transportation is hurting so bad we just can’t cover those kinds of trips any more. We need it.” Read more of the story in today's The Post & Mail