0

New emissions regulations hit schools in wallet

LAWRENCEVILLE

New federal regulations requiring cleaner-burning diesel engines and the use of ultra-low-sulfur fuel may reduce emissions, but complying with these mandates can be costly.

School systems, which have fleets of buses that use diesel fuel, have seen an increase in costs, from retrofitting buses with new filters and fuel pumps in preparation for the switch to ultra-low-sulfur diesel to seeing an increase in the price per gallon of the fuel.

But school system officials say they're willing to comply with the regulations, even if they do hit the institutions in the pocketbook.

"We have a responsibility to do our share, and we're eager to do so," said Allison Miller, the assistant superintendent of Buford City Schools.

Buford's school system has seen increased costs, but the costs have not been staggering, Miller said. The school system has a fleet of 17 buses, and the system is looking at purchasing two more to handle growth, she said.

Buford's neighbor, Gwinnett County Public Schools, is seeing a much larger increase in costs. Part of that has to do with the size of the county's fleet - 1,502 buses.

Gwinnett's school buses burn 16,000 to 17,000 gallons of diesel per day, said Grant Reppert, the system's transportation director. Although the price of fuel fluctuates, it costs 5 to 6 cents more per gallon to use ultra-low-sulfur diesel.

New engine requirements will add about $6,000 to the cost of new school buses, but GCPS has not yet had to buy a new bus under the new guidelines, Reppert said. When the school system takes bids for new buses, the cost increase may be reflected in the prices of the buses.

The school system has been purchasing about 100 new buses each year because of the growth the system sees, Reppert said. The forecasting approaches for the lifespan of a school bus suggest a bus be used for eight to 12 or 14 years.

"In Gwinnett, our approach has been to operate the buses for as long as they are safe and maintainable, sometimes longer than the 14-year point," Reppert said. "Our focus is always on safety and proper maintenance of our vehicles."

As far as paying for the new requirements, Reppert said his office works with the budgets office to anticipate what the costs will be for the year.

"The budget office manages the fluctuations through the reserving funds for emergencies," Reppert said.

In Barrow County, school system officials budgeted for the increased costs at the beginning of the fiscal year, said Lisa Leighton, the Barrow County School System spokeswoman.

All of Barrow's school buses have been in compliance with the new requirements for months, and all of the vehicles meet the new emissions standards, Leighton said.

Leighton said the school system is not anticipating buying any new school buses this year.