OXFORD – School officials say fuel costs and personnel benefits have risen dramatically over the past decade, leaving little wiggle room in the school budget to make major reductions.

“Health insurance rates have seen dramatic increases in the past 10 years,” said SAD 17 Business Manager Cathy Fanjoy. Costs went from $1.4 million 10 years ago to more than $4.7 million today.

“They have eased off in the past two years, but are well higher than the consumer price index. The benefit level has remained the same, but the cost for a health insurance plan has gone from just $5,000 per year for a family plan, to almost $14,000 for a family plan,” she said.

Employees pay 20 percent of the premiums that are contracted with Anthem Insurance as part of a group rate under the Maine Educators Association. Fanjoy said she believes at least 75 percent of Maine school districts are on the insurance plan.

“It’s a sizable pool,” said Superintendent Mark Eastman.

He added that the costs reflect increasingly sophisticated medical practices.

“It improves the quality of life, but it is expensive,” he said.

The district has also seen a large increase in heating oil costs.

Fanjoy’s figures show the cost of heating oil with the largest jump, going from $122,178 in the 1998-99 school year to $634,062 this year, nearly 419 percent increase.

Fanjoy said the district is actually heating less building space than 10 years ago when it heated the Madison Elementary School in Oxford and Fox Elementary School in Paris, which closed two years ago when the Paris Elementary School opened.

“Our consumption for heating oil and electricity is down, but the drastic increases in prices have eroded our efforts to save money in this area,” Fanjoy said.

She said that the figure should be less next year because the school district locked into a lower oil price.

Electricity, she said, is twice as much per kilowatt-hour as the district paid five years ago.

Electric consumption has fallen 28 percent, although the district’s cost over the past 10 years rose 51 percent, from $477,000 to $720,778.

Diesel and gasoline costs are up 377 percent, from $71,000 10 years ago to $338,800 today.

The district is driving less miles, eliminated the noon kindergarten run and went to full-day kindergarten to reduce costs, Fanjoy said. Fuel costs also are expected to fall next year as long as the price of gasoline doesn’t return to $4, she said.

The higher cost of heating oil coupled with reductions in state aid prompted school officials and legislators to start discussions on new ways to cut costs.

“The only area we can make any significant deductions in is salaries,” Fanjoy said at a recent directors meeting. Fanjoy said the district’s $19.3 million in salaries remains “pretty close” to 10 years ago when it was $14.1 million.

Eastman expects to name a committee next month to look at ways to continue providing quality education with dwindling finances.

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