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Some schools' fuel budgets nearly gone as costs keep rising
Published 14 March 2008 by Richmond Times-Dispatch (Virginia) (original article)

Higher gas prices push up transportation costs, which means higher costs for most goods. In the Richmond, Virginia area, the results are being felt everywhere, from the pizza joints to the school buses.

Published 14 March 2008 by Richmond Times-Dispatch (Virginia),

[The "walking school bus" of the image is one way that kids can safely get to school (assuming sufficient proximity) without using fossil fuels. As far as we know, it is not being implemented in Richmond at this time. See for more information about the program, and how to start one. -Ed.]

Running on empty
Some schools' fuel budgets nearly gone as costs keep rising

By Emily C. Dooley

Gas prices hit another new high today, rising 2 cents in the Richmond area to $3.20 per gallon.

But higher fuel prices hurt more than gasoline budgets. Schools are canceling or scaling back field trips because it's too expensive to drive.

Goochland County is two weeks away from depleting its gas budget for the school year.

Even pizza is taking a toll.

A NY Slice owner Salvatore Balsamo had to raise prices at his Midlothian pizza shop this month. Six months ago, a 15-pound bag of flour cost $10.45. Now, it's $28 a bag. Balsamo goes through 10 bags per week.

A slice of cheese pizza at his shop sells for $1.95, up from $1.75. "People understand," he said. "I am sure they're going through the same thing."

Nationally, a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline cost $3.28 today, up from $2.55 a year ago.

Higher gas prices push up transportation costs, which means higher costs for most goods.

"It's painful to all of us," said Ann Estes, vice president for ClearPoint Financial, a credit counseling firm. Some people will have budget problems who didn't have them before.

"If it were just gasoline, most of us could accept a rise in the budget," Estes said. "But it's not. It's the gas, it's the rise in food . . . and the rise in heat prices."

Long-distance commuters are car pooling to save money. RideFinders, a nonprofit agency that links riders to reduce the number of cars on the road, started three new van pools this past month, Executive Director Jameson T. Auten said.

"As we all know, the cost of gas continues to sky-rocket and . . . is adding a significant burden to the departmental operating budgets of police, fire, public works, Social Services," Mayor L. Douglas Wilder said in his recent budget address.

What is the forecast?

The national price for regular gasoline is expected to peak around $3.50 per gallon this spring, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said this week.

For diesel fuel, the national average price should peak around $3.70 per gallon in March and April, the agency said.

What's more, $4 per gallon and above gasoline is not out of the question in some parts of the country this spring.

Diesel is selling at nearly $4 per gallon in some locations in central Virginia.

What it means for travelers

People will still take vacations, but they will likely be closer to home, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

What it means at the grocery store and restaurants

More people will stay at home and make trips to the grocery store for basic items, not gourmet foods, according the National Bureau of Economic Research.

For every 100 percent increase in fuel prices, eating out decreases between 45 and 56 percent, according to a research report. Spending in grocery stores, meanwhile, rises 15 to 19 percent.

What it means for public transportation

Since January, GRTC Transit Systems has seen a 5 percent increase in riders taking Express Route buses at a cost of $1.75 per trip, CEO John Lewis said.

What it means for school districts:

Fuel prices have pushed the Dinwiddie County schools $200,000 over budget and Superintendent Charles Maranzano Jr. said he is not yet sure how the district will cover the cost.

The money allocated to cover fuel and lubricant costs in Hanover County Schools is $455,075 more than last year for the 2008-2009 budget, a 39.5 percent increase.

A 20 percent increase in gas costs next year has been projected for the Cumberland County Public Schools, which amounts to $35,000. That "is a large increase for a small school district," Division Superintendent James Thornton said.

What it means for school field trips:

Goochland Schools have frozen spending and discontinued field trips if they were not already approved. The school district budgeted $273,600 for gas this school year, at a rate of $2.40 per gallon. At current rates, gas money will run out at the first of April.

What it means for city/county government:

Powhatan County Administrator Carolyn Cios said the county expects to spend between $50,000 and $100,000 more to cover gasoline costs.

In Chesterfield County, a 10 percent, or $500,000, increase has been built into department budgets, said Allan Carmody, budget director.

What it means for gas tanks and gas stations

In February, someone poked a hole in the gas tank of a courier van for a Chesterfield dentist and drained five gallons of gas. "Desperate people will do desperate things," said Jill Jones, an administrative supervisor for the dental office.

Several gas stations now require motorists to pay before they pump, which has reduced gas station drive-offs, said Sgt. Chris Whitley from the Hanover Sheriff's Office.

Thanks to the Richmond Times-Dispatch for kind permission to reprint this article.
Photo credit: Gary A. K.

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