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Energy costs may force school cuts

School Board members are concerned by early numbers which show the massive savings on energy costs last year are nowhere to be found this year.
“Have we been so successful in that first year that we’re becoming lax now?” asked School Board chairman Bill Zechman after a report by building and grounds supervisor Donnie Caldwell which revealed increases in energy use at most schools.
The revelation came after the school system reduced its energy use significantly during the 2011-12 school year, saving the system $152,000. The reduction was accomplished by simply modifying behavior by doing things like turning off lights and computer monitors and reducing the number of portable refrigerators and personal items which use energy in classrooms.
The reduction had school leaders so enthused they were searching for a reward to give school system employees for their efforts. However, with the new report, leaders are worried the bottom line could shrink to a point where personnel cuts might be required.
“This is directly tied to staffing,” Zechman admitted, noting higher energy costs will cut the system’s ability to hire and retain some positions since it is money the school system has to spend.
The concern comes amid the report covering July, August and September showing electric use was up $69,467 from the same time last year. While it was noted the school system has gained nearly 150,000 more square feet with the addition to Dibrell School, the building of the Morrison School, and the addition of a field house, higher usage rates were seen at schools which received no changes.
Leading the way in cost increase was Hickory Creek, which used $3,597 more in energy, followed by West Elementary with $1,874, and Centertown with $1,470.
Those saving money included Eastside with $3,322, Bobby Ray with $2,691 and Irving College with $1,796.
The increase, Caldwell suspects, comes from teachers, administrators and students falling back into their old habits.
“We’re seeing things creep back in,” Caldwell said. “Stuff like mini-fridges and lamps are making their way back into schools and those are eating energy costs.”
Faced with a faltering energy-saving program which the School Board hoped would see even greater leaps this year, Director of Schools Bobby Cox said he will discuss the issue with school principals and again stress the need to cut energy costs. Meanwhile, Caldwell will be conducting an audit on the schools with the highest energy usage.
“We need to get a handle on this before we fall back into our old pattern completely,” Cox said.

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