High gas prices cutting into surplus

ASHLAND, VA (WWBT) - Rising gas prices are putting a dent in the wallets of many people, and local school districts are no exception. Hanover County Schools have a million dollar surplus, but a large part of that money won't go into the classroom.

Hanover Schools will spend $400,000 next school year just to offset the spike in fuel prices. Michael Thornton is the Assistant Superintendent of Business and Operations. He says there are plenty of other things he'd rather spend the surplus money on than gas.

"We have to ensure we get our kids to school on time and in a safe manner," he said. "One of the primary motives to get them there would be these yellow school buses."

Each year 300 Hanover buses drive 2.5 million miles taking kids to and from school. All that driving costs the county a million dollars in gas last year before prices started to soar.

Thornton says the $400,000 going toward offsetting higher gas prices could pay for seven new teachers.

"It is disappointing that we're not in a position to use those additional resources for direct classroom instruction," Thornton said.

NBC12 Education Expert Dr. Bill Bosher says trying to figure out how much it'll cost to keep buses running years in advance is a guessing game.

"Schools are planning their budgets in the fall, 18 months ahead of the application," he said.  "To determine the cost of a gallon of gas, you have to project in October of 2010 what a gallon of gas will cost to run that bus in June of '12."

This surplus is a one-time deal and so far fuel prices haven't shown any signs of coming back down.

"We don't know where the end will be with the rising price of fuel," Thornton said. "But it does give us that flexibility."

If gas prices don't come down, Hanover County Schools will have to find money somewhere else in their budget next year to offset the higher fuel prices.

The rest of the million dollar surplus will go toward replacing an outdated student records system.

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