By Johnny Jackson
Local school officials are reporting adequate funding for student transportation, and the fuel it takes to fill their school buses, despite the recent spike in fuel prices across the nation.
"At this moment, we are not over-budget with regard to fuel costs," said Charles White, communications director for Clayton County Public Schools. "It is the opinion of our transportation department that we have funding to meet our transportation needs for the remainder of the school year."
White said the school district's transportation department remains within its $1.9 million budget for energy-electricity and fuel. He said the school district continues to buy its fuel at a set price -- $2.85 per gallon for gas, and $3.29 per gallon for diesel -- through the Georgia Department of Administrative Services' State Purchasing operation, which establishes competitive statewide contracts for various products, such as motor fuel.
As reported Thursday by the auto club, AAA, the statewide average for regular unleaded gas was $3.47 per gallon. It $3.85 per gallon for diesel.
White said the school district also makes use of "the Fuelman Gas Card Program" to give school bus drivers ways to fuel up at locations along their bus routes, as opposed to returning to previously designated fuel stations.
The communications director said participation in the Fuelman Gas Card Program is an effort to conserve fuel and increase efficiency at the transportation department, which operates a fleet of 339 school buses, and transports some 29,000 pupils.
The Henry County School System purchases its fuel through McPherson Oil Company, according to Henry's Transportation Services Director Cliff Shearouse. The company, a fuel management company based in Trussville, Ala., also offers Fuelman gas card products, according to its web site.
Shearouse reported a yearly reduction in the amount of fuel used within the school system through conservation measures, such as limiting school field trips.
"Transportation Services has been looking at ways to conserve fuel for the past several years," said Shearouse. "With 69 percent of the [2010-11] school year complete, we have used approximately 434,440 gallons and spent $1,364,395."
Shearouse said the school district's transportation department is presently paying $3.61 per gallon to fuel its school buses. He said the expenditure is nearly as much as the department paid during the 2008-09 school year, when prices rose as high as $3.87 per gallon.
During the 2008-09 school year, transportation services went 11 weeks paying more than $3 per gallon, he added. The highest paid that year was $3.87 per gallon, capping off a price tag of $1,932,906 for about 804,476 gallons.
In contrast, Henry never paid more than $3 per gallon for fuel during the 2009-10 school year. Shearouse said the highest amount paid was $2.78 per gallon, using fewer than 745,722 gallons of fuel for a total cost of $1,810,310.
"Fuel prices are still increasing, and at the current rate ..., it appears we will spend more than $2 million for fuel this school year."
The average consumer may have a few fleeting moments of relief at the pump, as was the case Thursday, when prices were stagnant, according to AAA Auto Club South Spokeswoman Jessica Brady.
Brady said gas prices have kept a tight pace lately with increasing crude oil prices. The result has been near instantaneous jumps in costs at the pump each day.
Brady acknowledged that the lag time, between the price of crude oil and its impact on costs at the pump, has been as long as 72 hours. However, in some cases, the price of crude oil has been reflected almost immediately in the price of gasoline -- in as little time as 12 hours.
She explained that a spike in crude oil prices potentially could be felt by the consumer, at the pump, in a day.
AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report indicated that metro Atlantans are paying near the national average, now, and at or above the state average for a gallon of gas. The report revealed regular unleaded gas was priced at an average $3.47 per gallon Thursday, with premium costing an average $3.79 per gallon in metro Atlanta.
The report noted that the national average held at $3.52 per gallon of regular unleaded gas, on Thursday; consumers paid $3.79 per gallon for premium. Likewise, average price in Georgia held at $3.47 for regular unleaded, and $3.77 for premium.