Local News

School buses try to keep rolling, in spite of fuel shortage

Posted September 16, 2008 11:09 p.m. EDT
Updated September 18, 2008 6:44 p.m. EDT

— Schools across North Carolina are having trouble finding fuel for buses – at any price. Hurricane Ike temporarily shut down oil refining along the Gulf of Mexico, a major supply for school systems in the state.

State education leaders say they are pressuring suppliers to get fuel to bus depots so students can get to class.

"We just don't have the production coming to us that we would on a normal basis,” said Derek Graham, chief of the Transportation Services Section in the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

Missing regular supply runs, and with some systems having just a couple days in reserves, schools in Charlotte canceled extra-curricular trips. Other school leaders are considering giving students a few days off.

"We don't like to be running things that close when we don't know where our next tanker load is coming from,” Graham said.

In a video conference with education officials across the state, Graham outlined another plan of attack that includes looking beyond contracted vendors to buy local dealers.

According to Graham, one school system that had been running low was Johnston County. It had a day or so left in the tank before fuel trucks recently made it there.

"We are doing very well,” Johnston County Schools public information officer Terri Sessoms said.

Another big help was when transportation officials re-worked bus routes to make them more efficient.

"Getting more kids to school with fewer buses" was necessary with such low fuel supplies, Sessoms said.

Fuel budgets might not recover as well. Hurricane Ike sent the price of fuel soaring.

"We will have to scramble to see if there is some sources of funding to take care of it,” Graham said.

Durham County schools said they are doing well with their fuel supplies. Wake County schools are said to be doing OK, too. The district increased its storage capacity after fuel-shortage scares during Hurricane Katrina.