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High Gas Prices Hurt Rural Schools' Budgets

I've seen a few stories recently about the high price of gasoline and how it's affecting rural schools.

The current national average for a gallon of gas is $3.944, up from $2.867 a year ago, according to AAA. That's causing big problems for small districts where bus routes span long distances.

TV6 News in Michigan reported that in one small district where some students ride for an hour and 15 minutes one way, the school superintendent expects the district's fuel costs to increase up to 10 percent if the price of gas stays high.

"With all the additional cuts coming from the state, just the increase in gas is going to be difficult for us to handle," school Superintendent Pamela Morris told TV6 News.

And in Pine Valley, Calif., the Mountain Empire Unified School District has seen its annual gas budget skyrocket to $130,000, a 23 percent increase, according to Fox 5 News in San Diego. The district has 1,600 students and spans 660 square miles.

"When you start the year and you do your budget, you're not thinking your energy cost is going to go up 25 percent," school Superintendent Steve Van Zant told the TV station. "For next year, when we're looking at how to cut budget, we have to balance that with how much we're paying for gas. It may end up costing somebody their job."

At least one state is trying to help rural schools with that rising cost. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget would remove a revenue-limit exemption for transportation and a few other expenses. That would freed up about $400,000 for the Maple school district, but it also would increased taxes, according to a story in the Superior Telegram. The four Maple district schools in northern Wisconsin enroll about 1,500 students.

"We looked at this exemption and it would have provided funds; however, we did not think that adding more of a property tax burden to the local taxpayers was fair, especially in light of the recent increased levies due to long-term facilities replacement," Maple school district business director Paul Staffrude said in the story. "Revenue cap exemptions are borne 100 percent by the taxpayers with no shared revenue from the state to offset the property tax."

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