Economics for BoE: Start with the buses

Tue, 08/26/2008 - 3:03pm
By: Letters to the ...

There is a need to introduce a concept to the Fayette County Board of Education that seems to be an oversight. Apparently, the idea of cost avoidance is a new and relatively untried methodology for finding existing sources of revenue within our school district that can be redirected.

I wanted to give a basic idea to the FCBOE how different options with transportation fuels can make a huge difference in spending or avoiding having to spend taxpayer revenue. This is especially true since the FCBOE is crying louder about an additional $8.2 million dollar shortfall, according to the Aug. 13 edition of The Citizen.

A recent article indicates that 15 of the Fayette buses are already using biodiesel and that the school district is planning to have another 45 buses operating on biodiesel by the end of this upcoming 2008 school year. The biodiesel mixture that schoolbuses across Georgia are using is a 20 percent soybean and 80 percent petroleum based diesel.

An 80/20 percent mixture of biodiesel and petroleum-based diesel is not by any means technically biodiesel whatsoever. Biodiesel contains no petroleum, period. If you mix diesel fuel with biodiesel, it is called a biodiesel blend and does not meet the ASTM D6751 industry standard to be called biodiesel.

Biodiesel is biodegradable and nontoxic, whereas a biodiesel blend obviously isn’t biodegradable and nontoxic. Georgia going green with an 80/20 blend is surely little more than a ruse.

Out of the 181 school buses, the school district is only going to be running 20 percent biodiesel in 60 buses. All of the diesel buses in our school district should already be running on 100 percent biodiesel.

Ethanol comes in basically two popular mixtures of E10 for 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent unleaded gasoline and E85 for 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent unleaded gasoline. E85 fuel has a higher octane rating while decreasing harmful emissions.

If the school district has any gasoline buses, a conversion of the fuel system would be required to run on E85 fuel. This would be a one-time, non-recurring cost to convert each gasoline-powered bus.

I searched the Internet for E85 conversion kits for eight cylinder gasoline engines and the resulting prices are roughly $500 to $1,000 each. And there is already a major supplier already located here in Georgia that delivers fuel for over 700 school districts, more than 500 counties, and 300 plus cities; therefore the supply of E85 and/or biodiesel isn’t the issue.

Another alternative to gasoline is propane gas. Propane would improve air quality; lower greenhouse emissions while significantly lower hydrocarbon, carbon monoxide (CO), and nitric oxide (NO) than gasoline and diesel. Also, keep in mind that the emissions from propane would be somewhat comparable with E85 fuel. This would also require converting existing buses to propane or purchasing new buses already equipped as such. It doesn’t look to be a drastic price difference on the onset but there some notable good deals that propane provides.

What ought to be really apparent is that while a propane is greener than gasoline and diesel is the fact that the buses don’t get as good fuel mileage as the other two. However, propane should not be ruled out as it needs to be fully analyzed and serious note taken to look at the tax credits available to our county if we used propane, if any. And let us not forget that 90 percent of the propane used here in the U.S. is produced right here at home in the states and thus eliminates our dependency on foreign oil.

And if fuel prices skyrocket again to $5 or more, then propane might not have been such a poor idea at all.

Overall our school district could potentially save a nice amount of money (cost avoidance) just by being much better stewards over that which they already have control of. Changing the type of fuel used would mean that this savings could pay the salary for five seasoned teachers with a master’s or eight teachers with a bachelor’s degree, based on the savings.

For the 2006-2007 school year the FCBOE reported that they spent $8,124,469 on transportation, accounting for 4.4 percent of their total expenditures. If the FCBOE would implement a system of targeted busing we could reduce this by up to 4 percent or $3,249,787 and perhaps even more. If Florida state school districts can do this, then surely Fayette County can as also.

Then we would be able to eliminate a handful of our existing 181 buses in further cost avoidance without sacrificing the offering of transportation to and from schools for the same 68 percent of the students. And keep in mind that the FCBOE has already openly admitted that enrollment is down, so the number of routes, distance, time on the road, and mileage overall should also drop as the student population has decreased.

So here is where the rubber meets the road. This is a small but explicit example of one way to cut expenses. I am certain that there are many, many more. School districts all over America are being forced to get lean and mean with their budgets, and the FCBOE needs to get on board with the idea as well.

Fayette taxpayers are being asked to approve the 1 percent SPLOST on the November ballot before the FCBOE has empirically shown to be good financial stewards with what they have already. The FCBOE needs to eliminate unneeded expenditures, eliminate inefficiencies, eliminate redundancy, and make waste the thing of the past.

Eliminate unnecessary FCBOE director and coordinator positions first before eliminating any teaching positions. Outsource the lunch programs to private industry. Eliminate unnecessary storage and reduce or eliminate the need for $17 million for warehousing if at all possible.

Folks, it is more than time to hold our government officials totally accountable for the money that they spend. It is also time the same government officials learn that they have to prove excellent stewardship first before they come back to us for more money.

Is anyone at the FCBOE paying attention?

Bryan W. McMillan

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Submitted by Bryan47 on Wed, 08/27/2008 - 5:58pm.

I would like to mention that there is some really hopeful technology already in the game being thrown right at this problem of fuel cost. These are hybrid buses similar to the hybrid cars we are seeing already. One in particular from Navistar Corporation is their Hybrid CE Series Bus that offers two types of Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEV). One they call Charge Sustaining (Lead Acid Batteries) and the other is Charge Depleting (Lithium-Ion Batteries). Please don’t get any funny ideas as this is a standard size yellow box bus very similar to the look of the buses used by Fayette County today. But that is where the look of similarity ends as the standard cost for one of these bad boys is about $140,000.00 more than a regular bus or about $220,000.00 each. The advertised savings to run one of these new type buses is basically .60¢ a gallon (equivalent of the cost of charging by electricity) versus the $4.20 a gallon for regular diesel. Please do not misunderstand me here as I am not at all advocating the School District by these types of buses. Nonetheless, I am delighted that this type of bus is already on the market. Maybe at some point in the near future the affordability will make this type of technology viable for Fayette County. Tests for these hybrids are underway in California, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Washington so this thing isn’t just on the drawing board.

The next step is to do some analysis of costs however, before we can really do any number crunching here we need to get some data from which to number crunch with. According to the FCBOE’s website, we have an average of 13,134 regular transported students to and from school, which equates to about 68% of the student body that attends schools. Fayette County owns and operates 181 Buses having 17 Elementary Schools, 6 Middle Schools, and 6 High Schools for a total of 29 schools. Next, we need to estimate the fuel efficiency of a bus. This wasn’t easy to find as most bus manufacturers neglect to put this on their specifications. So, as best as I could find out a propane powered bus gets about 5.5 miles per gallon, a diesel bus gets about 7 miles to a gallon, and gasoline around 8 miles per gallon (MPG). Gasoline is currently at about $3.77 per gallon for regular unleaded. The average cost of a gallon of propane is $3.23 per gallon. The average cost of diesel is $4.20 per gallon. Price ranges for Biodiesel seem to be situation somewhere between 45¢ and $2.80 per gallon of fuel, so we’ll error on the high side of the price range.

What I haven’t been able to locate is the average daily mileage for Fayette school buses. So, for illustrative purposes we’ll just use a flat 20 miles times the two runs each day for a distance of 40 miles per school bus to see how all of this works out. We also do not want to leave out that we are not sure of the number of diesel verse gasoline buses we’ll just do the arithmetic for each like they are all gasoline or all diesel vehicles.
So, let us take a good look at the numbers. First of there are 181 total school buses owned and operated by the school district. Let us assume that there is an average of 40 miles put on each bus per day since I was unable to locate the actual average. That would mean 181 buses x 40 miles per day = 7,240 total miles driven. Now take the 7,240 miles per day and multiply that by 180 days of school per year and that equals a whopping 1,303,200 miles total. This DOES NOT include the obvious extra mileage added for sports activities, field trips, or any other special events. Next comes the miles per gallon (MPG) that each type of bus averages. For propane it looks to be about 5.5 mpg, for diesel it is about 7 mpg, and for gasoline we’d be looking at about 8 mpg. So take the 1,303,200 and divide this by the miles per gallon each bus type gets and you have 236,945.5 gallons of propane, 186,171.4 gallons of diesel, or 162,900.0 of gasoline. Last, we take those three numbers and multiply it by the cost of each fuel. As near as I could determine propane is $3.23 per gallon, diesel $4.20 per gallon, and gasoline is about $3.60. So the end result calculates out to $765,333.82 for propane, $781,920.00 for diesel, and $586,440.00 for gasoline. You have to remember that the cost of gasoline is likely to reach $5.00 or more dollars per gallon by the end of next year according to many analysts who track such things. If this becomes reality you’d see that $586,440.00 for gasoline skyrocket to $814,500.00 of pure cost to the school district. And we haven’t added any of those special activities requiring extra cost to these figures.

So, what would happen if the Fayette County School District with all 181 buses were to use either 100% Biodiesel or E85? I am delighted you asked! Let’s take a look at the numbers when we do this. Again, same number of gallons of both diesel (186,171.4) and E85 instead of gasoline (162,900.0). The cost of Biodiesel is $2.80 per gallon and E85 is $3.28 per gallon. Now instead of $781,920.00 for diesel it would be $521,280.00 instead for 100% ASTM D6751 Biodiesel. That is $260,640.00 in pure cost avoidance and that will pay a number of teacher salaries. For E85 the numbers are not as large but still are savings nonetheless. The savings for using E85 fuel over gasoline would be $52,128.00. Not only would the school district save money it would be using fuels produced right here at home and reducing the pollution caused by each and every bus. Keep in mind that this is strictly a rudimentary analysis that doesn’t factor in a host of other variables like mechanical condition of the buses, the daily air temperature, air density, road conditions, weather, and weight on the bus, tire pressures, and a host of other things that would affect the fuel performance.

Overall the our School District could potentially save a nice amount of money (cost avoidance) just by being much better stewards over that which they already have control of. Using salary figures published by The Georgia Association of Educators Web Site the average Georgia teacher’s salary (2005-2006) with a Master’s and 14 years of experience is $49,109.00 and $31,659.00 with a Bachelor’s degree. By changing the type of fuel used would mean that this savings could pay the salary for 5 seasoned teachers with a Master’s or 8 teachers with a Bachelor’s based on the savings. Even the $52,128.00 in E85 fuel savings is not to be dismissed as that would cover one teachers’ salary and a very good portion of another.

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