Four-day school week? Rising fuel costs prompt speculation

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By The Staff



The school system will present a budget for the 2008-09 fiscal year that won’t require a property tax increase to fund.

The Roane County Board of Education approved the almost $61.8 million budget Thursday night. The budget passed 9-0.

“I’m satisfied with it,” board chairman Earl Nall said. “I wish we could have asked for more, but these are just not good times to ask for more money.”

The county commission is the funding body for the school system.

The proposed school budget will be vetted by the county’s budget committee before it heads to the full commission. Approval by the budget committee should not be a problem since no tax increase is required to fund the budget.

A lot of the discussion at Thursday night’s meeting centered around the higher cost of fuel prices.

The proposed budget includes an increase of $40,000 for diesel fuel.

Some board members wondered how the system will continue to run its fleet of buses if fuel prices continue to escalate.

A hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast or a conflict in the Middle East could cause fuel prices to skyrocket even higher than they are now.

“If this continues, something’s got to break,” board member Mike “Brillo” Miller said.

Miller and others even wondered about the possibility of going to a four-day school week as a way to save on fuel cost.

That’s a worst-case scenario that may not even be allowable under state law.

“If fuel went up to $6 a gallon, we would have to look at doing something,” Nall said. “But we can’t just say we’re going to go to a four-day school week when the state won’t allow us to do it.”

Schools will have to pay more for field trips and athletic trips under the new budget.

Schools will now be billed $1 per mile. They had been paying .50 cent per mile.

Weekly rates are also going up for the Before and After School Program.

The morning rate will increase from $25 to $30, the afternoon rate will increase from $35 to $40, and the summer rate will increase in 2009 from $85 to $100.

School meal prices will remain the same.

Board member Tyler Overstreet praised school system employees for all their work on the budget, but he also expressed worry about the future.

School system business manager Eric Harbin told board members that the funding formula the state uses to allocate money to schools resulted in less money for Roane County this year because of its industrial development land.

The state uses that to factor in a county’s ability to pay for education.

The Roane County government has millions of dollars invested in an industrial park in the eastern part of the county.

Overstreet said presenting a budget with no tax increase could be difficult in the years ahead.

“I fear next year and the following years we’re not going to be able to pull this off,” he said.