Schools anticipate higher heating bills caused by gas costs

Wednesday, November 9, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:09 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 6, 2008

Boone County school districts are preparing for an anticipated increase in the cost of natural gas, which would mean higher heating bills.

While some districts increased their budgets in preparation for higher natural gas prices, others might have to rely on their reserves to cover the cost of keeping schools warm.

Stan Ingraham, the Sturgeon R-V School District superintendent, said he is concerned about rising heating costs predicted for this winter.

Last spring, the Sturgeon district looked at the budget for this school year and decided to put 30 percent more money than usual toward fuel and electricity, which the district receives through Ameren UE. The extra money was taken out of anticipated district revenues; no other area of district spending was affected by the decision.

“I feel right now that we’re going to be able to handle it,” Ingraham said.

He added that the district, which has three schools, will have to wait and see whether enough money was allocated.

“But we did anticipate it,” he said.

Southern Boone County R-1 School District will draw resources from reserves — in essence, school districts’ saving accounts — to cover heating costs, if necessary.

Susan Gauzy, superintendent of the four-school district, said the district is fortunate it has reserves.

“If push comes to shove, that’s what we’ll have to do­ — spend out of reserves,” she said. “Your reserves are for a crisis or things you can’t control, and this is something you can’t control.”

Ameren supplies electricity to the Hallsville R-IV School District and provides the pipeline it uses for natural gas, but the district buys its natural gas on the open market.

Superintendent Tom Baugh said this is the third year the three-school district has bought its natural gas on the open market. This practice has provided substantial savings during the past two years, he said.

Baugh said the district put aside an extra 20 percent for utilities when budgeting money from state and local sources.

“It will eat up some of those dollars that might have gone somewhere else, for sure,” he said.

Baugh said the severity of this winter’s weather will determine whether the district budgeted enough money for the increase.

“We’ll probably be all right in our budget without having to dip into reserves,” he said.

The warm weather in the past weeks has helped, he said.

“We’re able to turn off the air conditioning and not turn on the heat,” he said. “But three weeks of really cold weather in January or February could change the whole thing.”

The Columbia Public School District bought a supply of natural gas to last the winter through a program by the Missouri School Boards’ Association, said Jacque Cowherd, the district’s deputy superintendent for administration.

This allowed the district to buy most of its gas at summer prices to save money, Cowherd said. The association estimated how much gas the district would need, but depending on how harsh the winter is, the Columbia district might not have enough to make it through, Cowherd said.

The district also increased its budget by about 15 percent in anticipation of the increase in heating costs.

If needed, reserve money could go toward natural gas to heat schools, as well as gas to fuel school buses.

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