AASA Survey Finds Rising Fuel, Energy Costs Stressing School Budgets

July 29, 2008

Contact:
Amy Vogt
703-875-0723
avogt@aasa.org

ARLINGTON, VA. – Rising fuel and energy costs are taking a toll on school system budgets nationwide, according to the results of a new survey released today by the American Association of School Administrators. The eight-question AASA Fuel and Energy Snapshot Survey asked school superintendents about the effect of rising fuel and energy costs on their school districts. Ninety-nine percent of respondents reported these rising costs are having an impact on their school systems. Further, they reported that conserving energy, cutting back on student field trips and consolidating bus routes are among the top steps districts are taking to minimize the impact of rising fuel and energy costs. Meanwhile, few states are stepping forward to assist school systems struggling to meet escalating these rising costs.

“School systems are making tough and innovative budget choices to meet rising fuel and energy costs, but they need financial assistance,” said AASA Executive Director Daniel A. Domenech. “Education is an investment. State governments and the federal government must step in on behalf of the nation’s children to fill the gaps created by rising costs and shrinking school budgets, including reduced local property tax receipts.”

“Without adequate funding, our schools cannot fully meet children's needs,” said AASA President Randall Collins, superintendent of schools in Waterford, Conn. “While school systems are working hard to limit programming cuts, the sharp increase in costs will have a negative impact on children, especially disadvantaged children, unless the states and federal government act quickly to provide relief."

Only three percent of superintendents responding to the survey said their districts are moving to a four-day school week, but 15 percent said their districts are considering moving to a four-day school week.

Districts Address Rising Costs
School systems are taking steps to minimize the impact of rising fuel and energy costs for the 2008-09 school year, according to the survey results. Respondents were given a list of actions and asked whether each action was in place or under consideration in their districts for the coming school year.

According to the results, the top 10 actions school systems are doing for the upcoming school year, and the percentage of respondents selecting this response, are as follows:

  1. Implementing energy conservation measures – 59 percent
  2. Cutting back on student field trips – 44 percent
  3. Cutting back on heating and air conditioning use – 37 percent
  4. Consolidating bus routes – 35 percent
  5. Limiting staff business travel – 34 percent
  6. Eliminating/modifying support personnel positions – 33 percent
  7. Cutting back on purchasing supplies – 31 percent
  8. Delaying non-essential facility upgrades and repairs – 29 percent
  9. Eliminating/modifying instructional personnel positions – 29 percent
  10. Eliminating/modifying administrative personnel positions – 21 percent

Only three percent of superintendents responding to the survey said their districts are moving to a four-day school week, but 15 percent said their districts are considering moving to a four-day school week.

The top 10 actions school systems are considering for the upcoming school year, and the percentage of respondents selecting this response, are as follows:

  1. Consolidating bus routes – 35 percent
  2. Eliminating bus routes – 32 percent
  3. Cutting back on student field trips – 32 percent
  4. Eliminating bus stops close to school sites – 27 percent
  5. Eliminating/modifying athletic offerings – 27 percent
  6. Eliminating/modifying extracurricular offerings – 26 percent
  7. Limiting staff business travel – 26 percent
  8. Implementing energy conservation measures – 21 percent
  9. Changing fuel purchasing practices – 19 percent
  10. Cutting back on purchasing supplies – 19 percent

A list of additional actions districts are taking and considering is provided in the survey results document.

Additional Steps
The survey asked about other steps school systems are taking to minimize the impact of rising fuel and energy costs in the 2008-09 school year. The open-ended responses focused on conservation, facilities and transportation. The most common responses were as follows:

Facility-related actions school systems are taking:

  • Installing energy-saving light fixtures
  • Upgrading to more energy efficient heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems
  • Converting from heating oil to natural gas, geo-thermal, wood chip or pellet systems
  • Investigating alternative energy sources, such as solar and wind
  • Conducting energy efficiency audits
  • Limiting the use of facilities for after-hours activities
  • Hiring energy managers to work with schools to cut energy use
  • Running offices on a four-day week when school is not in session
  • Purchasing natural gas and electricity through a broker to take advantage of market fluctuations
  • Educating employees and students about energy conservation practices
  • Applying for grants when the school budget cannot keep up with rising costs

Transportation-related actions school systems are taking:

  • Purchasing fuel and natural gas through a cooperative or consortium
  • Negotiating with fuel providers
  • Pre-purchasing diesel fuel and propane to lock in prices for the upcoming year
  • Purchasing more fuel-efficient vehicles for local travel and student transport
  • Training bus drivers on fuel-efficient driving techniques, such as restricting speed to 65mph and limiting bus idling
  • Increasing student fees for transportation to/from extracurricular/athletic activities
  • Using GPS software to determine the most energy-efficient bus routes

Innovative Steps
The survey asked about innovative steps school systems are taking to save money and/or conserve resources in the 2008-09 year. Open-ended responses included:

  • Applying for community-based grants to collaborate with community organizations to install innovative energy solutions
  • Lobbying the state legislature to allow for a four-day school week [Three percent of superintendents responding to the survey said their districts are moving to a four-day school week, and 15 percent said their districts are considering moving to a four-day school week.]
  • Constructing a wind turbine to reduce energy costs
  • Buying in on a wind energy farm that will be up and running within two years and will provide a small cash flow until it is paid off in 15 years
  • Holding parent meetings via teleconferencing instead of face-to-face
  • Planning on having school buildings equipped with solar panels within the next five years
  • Considering a contest for bus drivers to develop economical driving practices
  • Starting an on-line high school to reduce travel
  • Converting buses to biodiesel

State Assistance
When asked if their states are doing anything to assist their districts with rising fuel and energy prices, 77 percent of respondents said no, 14 percent said they were not aware of state actions and nine percent said yes. In open-ended responses, some noted that state action will be considered during the next legislative session. According to respondents, some states have offered:

  • Increasing appropriation for transportation
  • Special legislative session to allocate more funds
  • One-time fuel allocation
  • Supplemental funding for fuel
  • Legislative reimbursement for fuel cost overage
  • Elimination of state tax on fuel costs
  • Reimbursement of student travel
  • State pricing for fuel
  • Transportation study by state legislature
  • Credits for capital energy reduction projects
  • Increased fuel support, but not to level needed

Snapshot of Superintendents’ Responses
When asked to share general comments about the effects of rising fuel and energy costs on their districts, a snapshot of responses included:

  • “Three years ago it cost us about $32,000 to heat our facility. Our costs for the 2008-09 year are estimated at over $100,000. That does not include fuel increases for buses, which are more than double from three years ago.”
  • “The cost of fuel has definitely forced us to take a closer look at all of our programs. We will do everything in our power to continue valuable programming.”
  • “It is only a matter of time before the cost of energy and health benefits cause us to eliminate educational opportunities for students.”
  • “Fuel and energy costs are not the only cost increases. Everything is going up ‐‐ paper, textbooks, wages and salaries, benefits, insurance, data processing and staff development. It is hard to isolate fuel and energy from the perfect storm of rising costs.”
  • “Of greater concern at the moment is the rising cost of food items and the impact on our food service program; it is certainly linked to the fuel issue.”
  • “We are at the very beginning of fundamental re-thinking of some transportation and energy uses that we have taken for granted as a way of life for years.”
  • “Besides the financial stress on our district, we are seeing the stress on families so that they are impacted by their own ability to afford participation, etc.”
  • “We've begun to explore alternative calendars but are now concerned with the fact that students may be in homes that lack adequate heat.”
  • “It has had a negative impact on retaining staff that commute from neighboring communities.”
  • “We are VERY worried. Overall funding is an issue and this is turning out to be the ‘straw that breaks the camel's back.’”

Additional open-ended responses are provided in the survey results.

Survey Results:

About the Survey
AASA invited 5,407 superintendents via e-mail to complete the eight-question AASA Fuel and Energy Snapshot Survey online between July 15 and July 18, 2008. A total of 546 completed the survey, yielding a response rate of 10 percent. Respondents came from every state, except Delaware and Hawaii, and the District of Columbia. Sixty-one percent of respondents reported they work in rural districts, 27 percent in suburban districts and 7 percent in urban districts.

About AASA
The American Association of School Administrators, founded in 1865, is the professional organization for more than 13,000 educational leaders across the United States. AASA’s mission is to support and develop effective school system leaders who are dedicated to the highest quality public education for all children. AASA’s major focus is standing up for public education. For more information, visit www.aasa.org.