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Schools seek fuel savings

by Larry S. Chowning

At the request of the Middlesex County Board of Supervisors, school officials are considering ways to save fuel and energy in the coming school year, and one option is a four-day school week.

School superintendent Rusty Fairheart said there are several schools in Virginia considering four-day school weeks, but he is not sure that it would work in Middlesex.

County supervisor Jack Miller has been encouraging the school system to consider a four-day week.

Miller has talked to the Virginia Board of Education and was told that this is a feasible alternative and a way to save money, said Fairheart.

However, Fairheart voiced concern that a four-day school week might damage the “instructional integrity” of the school system and put a hardship on low-income families who would have to pay for daycare on the weekday that school would be closed.

Also, a four-day week would require longer school days to make up for the lost day.

Fairheart noted some young elementary students already have problems coping with the current six-hour school days, and longer days would make it instructionally harder on students and teachers. “It might not make that much difference for high school students, but it would be a hard, long day for elementary students,” he said.

School board member Jim Goforth said he thinks the school system should give up all half-day holidays and make them full-day holidays for students. Half-day holidays are usually due to teacher work days or parent-student conferences.

Fairheart said there are eight half-days in a school year and eliminating those days would save about $15,000 in school bus fuel.

Another area the school system is reviewing is what the Department of Education calls “dead-end miles.” These are miles where buses are running without children or with just one or two aboard.

Fairheart said because of the 40-mile long length of the county there are considerable dead-end miles. He indicated school administrator John LaBrier is working on ways to cut down on dead-end miles.

Another consideration is cutting back on away athletic events. School board member Elliott Reed said that when a game does not impact district standings, it could be canceled to save on transportation costs.

School officials are also considering installing a fuel tank at Middlesex Elementary School so some buses won’t have to drive to the school bus headquarters at Cooks Corner particularly for fuel. This would be beneficial to buses working the lower end of the county while also eliminating dead-end miles, said Fairheart.

School board member Beth Hurd questioned whether the school system had considered a community bus stop for each area of the county, versus picking up every child in front of his or her home.

Fairheart said this would be feasible in Urbanna, Deltaville, Saluda and in some subdivisions, but the rest of the county is rural and spread out along the highway, which makes it difficult to have a community bus stop. He added that he would study the proposal further.

Goforth said, “The one thing I can say with certainty is that the board of supervisors wants us to do everything we can to conserve fuel costs. It is our responsibility to save in every way we can.”

During the budget process, county supervisors acknowledged that fuel costs may be higher than the amount budgeted and would, as they always have in the past, cover the excess cost of fuel and electricity for the schools.

Supervisors, however, have made it clear to all county departments to explore ways to save on energy costs.

posted 07.18.2008

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