Rising fuel costs have forced the Pickerington Local School District to re-evaluate bus routes for the 2008-09 school year.

Rising fuel costs have forced the Pickerington Local School District to re-evaluate bus routes for the 2008-09 school year.

While school officials said no student currently receiving bus service will go without when school starts in August, many will face longer walks to the bus stop, particularly in the district's more densely populated suburban areas.

"One of my tasks is to keep an eye on the transportation budget and, of course, the price of fuel is on everyone's mind," said Dave Decsman, a transportation consultant hired by the district. "I looked at some routes and said, 'Gee, isn't there a way we can reduce some miles and fuel costs?'"

By reducing the number of stops school buses make, Decsman said, the district can cut 525 miles a day without eliminating any routes. The shortened routes, Decsman said, are primarily those serving students in grades five through 12.

"At the current fuel price, that represents over a $60,000 savings," he said. "That's almost a 10-percent savings and we keep services intact.

"You can always reduce fuel costs by cutting back on transportation," he said. "We didn't want to do that. Instead, we wanted to keep transportation eligibility the same, but what we did was reduce the route miles by cutting back on the length of some of the routes."

Last year, the school district spent $485,071 on 147,593 gallons of diesel fuel to power school buses. Those buses moved 6,310 students in kindergarten through grade 12 a total of 923,000 miles, not including extracurricular activities and field trips, Decsman said.

Diesel-powered school buses typically only get seven to eight miles per gallon of fuel. By eliminating 525 miles from routes, Decsman estimates the district will save 75 gallons of fuel a day.

"With 177 school days, that's where it adds up," he said. "That's where the savings are."

Because of the vehicles' weight, Decsman said, fuel efficiency is further reduced when starting from a stop.

"We're not able to put our hands on a particular number, but we know that less stopping and starting will be a savings on fuel," he said. "Simply by reducing the number of stops by 50 percent, we're going to save a lot of money."

In the 2007-08 school year, the district overspent its fuel budget by about $100,000, Decsman said. The budget was based on a price of $2.60 a gallon, he said. But by October, prices started to climb and in January, the price of diesel fuel hit $3 a gallon.

By the time the district made its last purchase for the year in June, the price had risen to $4.45 a gallon.

"The sad part of it is, when you've got finite resources coming in, this money has to come from someplace," Decsman said.

Next year represents the fourth year of a five-year contract the district has with Peterman LLC to provide student transportation. The cost of the contract is based on the number of routes the district schedules. Last year, the district paid Peterman $4.2-million, not including fuel costs. Decsman said the cost of the contract typically increases by 4 percent a year and does not include field trips and extracurricular activities.

State law requires the district to transport students in kindergarten through grade eight who live more than two miles from school. Pickerington's policy goes beyond the state minimum and classifies students in kindergarten through grade 12 as eligible for transportation, if they live more than one mile from school.

Some students who live within one mile of school also are provided bus service if safety is a concern, Decsman said. In addition, he said, the district transports a number of students who attend private schools and have special needs.