Local News

Wake Schools Fuel Budget Running on Fumes

The higher cost of fuel has run the Wake County schools' fuel budget millions of dollars short.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Wake County school system officials have been looking for more fuel money to keep their buses on the road.

School administrators said they couldn’t have predicted the increases at the pump. The higher cost has made their fuel budget millions of dollars short.

When the school board meets Tuesday, it will have to sign off on more money to keep the buses going. Board members are considering using money from the district's $15 million reserve fund.

Wake County's 864 school buses travel 15 million miles a year – enough to go cross the country and come back 2,500 times. Each year, school administrators must estimate how much fuel money that will take. This year, the amount budgeted missed the bus.

Don Haydon, the district's chief facilities and operations officer, said the rise in diesel fuel prices caught them by surprise.

“Back when we developed the budget, we were paying $1.97 per gallon," Haydon said. "We don't know where prices are going to go from now on, but it was prudent to increase the budget now."

Now, the bulk rate the school system pays is $2.73 a gallon. That’s a increase of 76 cents a gallon, and it adds up to a $2.2 million shortfall overall.

Another reason the fuel budget is off, according to Haydon, is because buses are running extra routes delivering students whose parents opted for traditional school calendars over year-round calendars.

School board members must decide whether to provide the extra money for the fuel budget. Board member Horace Tart said it doesn't look like there is much of a choice.

“We have to travel those miles and get those children from home to school and back home,” he said.

School officials have asked the board to pull $2.2 million from the reserve fund.

"That fund balance, of course, is for the purpose of one-time expenses that are not anticipated," Tart said, noting several million dollars already been used from the fund for basic school operations because the county didn't meet the school board's budget request.