Rising fuel costs no excuse to skip school
If rush hour traffic in the area has you frustrated, just wait a week until 5,000 students enter the mix, traveling to school each day. Of all the challenges associated with back-to-school, getting area students to and from class and after school activities is a permanent concern. With gas prices in flux, parents and students may be entertaining any number of transportation options including cars, buses, bikes, skateboards, scooters, or walking. According to Brent Chaston, director of the Park City School District (PCSD) transportation department, they operate 28 buses to help parents get students safely to and from school.
Chaston noticed a small increase in the number of students using the buses as gas prices climbed last spring. Patty Murphy, business administrator for the PCSD said that she doesn’t anticipate any huge increases in bus use due to the income distribution in the valley. Ed Pack, father of eight-year-old Jeremy Ranch Elementary School student Jeffrey Pack, said that he will continue to drive his son to school because they live relatively close.
Many local high school students are likely to continue driving themselves to school if they are fortunate enough to have reached their 16th birthday and have their own vehicles. Tommy Martin, a 17-year-old entering his senior year at Park City High School (PCHS), said that he plans to drive himself to school but, "it sucks because the money I spend on gas can’t be spent on other things." Martin explained that he pays for (almost) all of his own gas with money he earns at his summer job. He added that he’s been talking to his friends about carpooling, but different school release times and after-school schedules make it difficult.
Murphy said that the PCSD operates their buses free of charge to students. Students in kindergarten through sixth-grade attending PCSD schools are eligible for bus transportation if they live more than one and a half miles from the school they were assigned. Students grades seven through 12 are eligible for bus transportation through PCSD if they live two miles or more from the school they were assigned.
Murphy acknowledged that, "of course our budget was hit [by rising fuel costs]." The good news is that, according to Murphy, the district anticipated the increased fuel prices and, so far, has stayed within budget. This year, the district increased the budget 30 percent for fuel alone.
Murphy calibrates the operating costs for the school buses in price-per-mile. Salaries and benefits for bus drivers and transportation department employees, fuel, tires, new buses, bus maintenance, and garage maintenance are all calculated in the cost. Fiscal year 2007 saw the district paying $3 per mile. This year they are paying $4.70 per mile, and the cost is anticipated to increase to $5.70 in 2009.
School field trips are being affected as well. Chaston explained that each school is given a field trip budget at the beginning of the year and each individual school is responsible for staying within their budget. Murphy said that the district went $2,000 into the hole on their field trip budget at each of the district’s schools last year.
The PCSD transportation department is doing what it can to keep necessary transportation as economical as possible. Chaston said that the district is adhering to a state-wide no idling policy. This policy urges buses and personal vehicles to shut down their engines while not moving. The hope is that, one vehicle at a time; the state can cut down on fuel usage and carbon monoxide emissions. According to Chaston, there really isn’t much they can do to adjust bus routes because they need to meet the needs in the area; they just try to keep routes as economical as possible.
South Summit School District
In the South Summit School District (SSSD), middle school principal Wade Woolstenhulme said that his school is seeking out closer field trips in an effort to avoid excessive fuel costs.
South Summit School District (SSSD) superintendent Barry Walker said, in general, they are trying to consolidate trips across the district. Woolstenhulme said that SSMS adjusted their early dismissal schedule so all schools let out at the same time, allowing them to combine runs. Walker described the current situation at South Summit as, "conserve first, charge later" As of now, bus transportation is free to students of South Summit schools.
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Park City officials are preparing to take what is considered to be an important step in protecting the Treasure land from wildfires. City Hall in early June requested proposals from firms interested in the work.