Rising food and energy costs combined with cuts in state funding have local education administrators focusing on operational efficiencies and cost cutting measures.
"The cost of food has risen about 15 percent this year," said Charles Wilson, assistant superintendent of business and finance for the Bulloch County school system. "Because of the sharp increase in food costs, our food service operation, which has been self sustaining for a number of years, looked as if it was going to have an operational deficit of between two hundred and four hundred thousand dollars this school year."
Wilson said the school system has implemented some major changes to cut costs in that area.
"You can't reduce quality or portion size," he said. "So we looked at other ways to cut costs such as going from the plastic milk bottles back to milk cartons which I believe will save around $75,000. We no longer provide free breakfasts for all students, and we limited the use of our disposables. We were able to balance the food service budget with these changes."
Wilson said the disposable plates, silverware, and cups in a lot of situations proved to be more expensive for the Bulloch County system to use than items that needed to be washed. Whereas Bulloch County schools may not have embraced disposables as cost cutting, many schools and universities across the country have, going so far as to eliminate trays in their cafeterias as well.
Fifty to 60 percent of Philadelphia-based Aramark’s 500 campus partners and 230 of the 600 colleges and universities served by Gaithersburg, Md.-based Sodexo are expected to dump their trays, company officials said, and at least 23 of the 625 schools belonging to the Okemos, Mich.-based National Association of College & University Food Services have adopted the idea so far.
Wilson said cutting costs in food service had to be done, but that food service is not the largest expense the school system faces.
"Salaries and benefits comprise about 85 percent of our overall operating budget of 180 million dollars," he said. "Then comes transportation, energy costs, and textbooks. We are trying to become more and more efficient in the areas that we can like transportation and energy consumption."
"We now use a routing software package called Edulog (Educational Logistics) which 'optimizes' our routes to run in the safest and most fuel efficient manner," said Paul Webb, director of transportation for the Bulloch County school system. "The county has had this capability for many years, but we have just in the last year put it into place. It helps reduce fuel costs and wear and tear on the buses."
Webb said the system has moved from 5,000 to 8,000 miles between oil changes for the school buses drastically reducing the amount of oil that is used - another commodity that has seen a sharp increase in its price.
"We are constantly evaluating and re-evaluating everything from routes, to maintenance of buses, to computer software to help us save taxpayer money," Webb said.
In the area of energy consumption, Wilson said all Bulloch County schools are being equipped with energy management systems.
"Each thermostat allows a range where the temperature can be set, but that is it," he said. "You can no longer put the temperature real low or real high depending on the season, and further, all large spaces such as lunch rooms and multipurpose rooms automatically go to a higher temperature an hour or so after school is out. Energy is a huge expense and we have to be very careful with it."
Georgia Southern has also implemented changes and programs encouraging conservation of resources on its campus.
"In 2006, the buses Georgia Southern uses for its transit system were switched from diesel buses to cleaner-burning Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)-fueled buses," said Paul Floeckher, senior communications specialist for Georgia Southern University. "Operators generally say the CNG buses are quieter, have lower maintenance costs, longer life expectancy and lower fueling costs. Georgia Southern University always strives to be fiscally responsible and to make the best use of its resources."
No changes in food service were mentioned by Floeckher, but he did point out that Georgia Southern has 543 recycling bins inside educational/administrative buildings (that doesn't even count on-campus housing buildings).
"Last year the University recycled more than 165 tons of paper products through its recycling program for office paper, newspapers and magazines," he said.