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SKSD deals with soaring diesel costs

With the price of fuel — including diesel — soaring to never-before-seen heights, the South Kitsap School District (SKSD) Transportation Department is gearing up for a costly school year. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to the health of the community.

According to Willa Werner, SKSD’s director of transportation, almost all of the district’s 90 buses run on diesel fuel. Diesel is up statewide almost 80 cents, at $2.90 a gallon Thursday compared to $2.12 per gallon just one year ago, according to AAA’s daily fuel gauge report.

AAA projects those numbers will probably continue to rise because of summertime demand for fuel and the escalating price of crude oil, but may decrease slightly after Labor Day.

Plus, most districts get a discount because they buy in such huge quantities and don’t have to pay government fuel taxes.

“We pay less than you would pay at the pump,” Werner said, but keep in mind that the average bus has a gas tank that can hold 60 to 100 gallons of fuel and, on average, gets seven miles to the gallon.

Although school transportation is mandatory in most states, Washington is not one of them.

“It’s not mandatory in the sense that we must offer transportation,” Werner said. “But we must offer transportation equally.”

Meaning if the district offers rides to school at the elementary level, it must also offer it at the secondary level and vice versa. Regardless, the transportation program at SKSD is in no danger of being cut and the district is absorbing the costs.

“Absolutely we’ve noticed,” Werner said.

According to Lead Mechanic Len Hembd, the district purchased approximately 205,000 gallons of diesel and regular gas last year. Hembd expects to spend more than $375,000 during the course of the upcoming school year, compared to $312,000 in 2004.

“We did have to cut our budget significantly this year by about $750,000, partly due to fuel,” said Terri Patton, the district’s assistant superintendent for business. “We’re actually worried we didn’t budget enough, because the price keeps going up.

“One of the things I’m concerned about is the question of whether more families will think about putting their kids on the bus and whether teenagers will ride the bus and will we have enough buses?” Patton said.

According to Werner, about 6,200 students rode the bus to school in the morning last year, based on a state count.

“With these costs that are going up, we’re (going to see) some more ridership,” Werner predicted.

However, she said, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“It’s absolutely good for the district and the community in terms of traffic, and school bus transportation is the safest form of transportation.”

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