With the days getting steely with cold and nights settling in more quickly, schools are facing soaring oil bills, and students could be adopting a fashionable new trend of bulky layers.

Anticipating exorbitant costs of bus and heating fuel, superintendents and school boards have set in place measures to trim budgets and curb expenses, from turning down thermostats to eliminating some bus routes and field trips.

Superintendent Richard Colpitts, who oversees SAD 39 in Buckfield, Hartford and Sumner, said the district had set aside $40,000 to buy computers, but that the board might choose to delay this purchase. “We have not elected to spend that money yet,” he said Wednesday. “We might forgo the purchase of hardware to make sure we have money for the surplus.”

The superintendent of SAD 17, Mark Eastman, said the district has imposed a few money-saving tactics including consolidating bus routes, turning down thermostats and not letting buses idle. The district, which includes Norway, Paris, Oxford, Otisfield, Harrison, Waterford, Hebron and West Paris, is also examining more radical changes, such as shifting the school calendar in the future by extending winter breaks or adopting a four-day school week.

Eastman said changing the calendar has been an idea tossed around in years past, but state laws would have to be changed for this to occur.

For the time being, schools are making more modest adjustments.

Madeline Bassett, office manager of SAD 72, which covers five Fryeburg area schools, said the district uses about 131,000 gallons of fuel a year. The district will spend 52 cents more per gallon this year.

“We’re in the beginning stages of implementing a program for the schools to be more conscious of saving electricity, to use natural lights and to turn off lights,” she said. And to turn conservation into a game for students, the district might have a competition between the schools for the lowest heating bill.

Field trips, too, will be more closely examined. Bassett said teachers should group with other classes if they want to go somewhere, or choose a nearby location.

Cutting bus routes can save a few thousand dollars. And SAD 17 predicts that setting thermostats to 66 degrees for grades 7 to 12 and 68 degrees for younger students will save $13,350. Warmer clothing will be encouraged, according to a report Eastman prepared on the topic.

The unpredictable oil prices have been somewhat problematic. SAD 17 bought heating fuel this summer for $1.80 and anticipated making a second order after prices dropped. Instead, following Hurricane Katrina, prices jumped. The second order of fuel cost 26 cents more a gallon.

SAD 17, which encompasses 11 schools, is already $44,220 over its fuel budget and still has to buy about 122,000 more gallons for the year, according to Eastman.

Eastman said of the hole, “We hope to make that up by conservation.” Also, the last order of oil for the school district could benefit from prices that have been dropping recently, and which tend to fall after the first of the year, he said.


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