Garrett says Rainy Day Fund may be needed to pay escalating gas bills

Thursday, February 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Lawmakers may have to dip into the state's Rainy Day Fund to help pay the escalating heating bills of Oklahoma's schools, state schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett said Wednesday.

Garrett's office sent surveys to school districts across the state to measure the impact high heating bills have had on the schools' budgets. The response so far indicates that schools paid $5.2 million more in heating bills this November and December than a year ago, she said.

"The worst is yet to come," Garrett said. "We think January is going to be the highest."

The survey was conducted in response to several complaints that Garrett's office has received, she said.

The school districts reported paying more than $9.5 million to heat classrooms in November and December, an increase of $5,296,586 in what those schools reported paying during the same period in 1999, Garrett said.

"This is an emergency," she said. "I think it would qualify for the Rainy Day Fund."

Half the money in the Rainy Day Fund can be appropriated if the governor and Legislature agree. This year, $78.7 million from the fund is available for appropriation.

Traditionally, the Legislature and governor agree to use half the fund for appropriations to various state operations.

Garrett said she will provide the survey responses to the governor and legislators in an effort to expedite financial relief for the schools.

Until then, the only option available to schools is to pay heating bills out of their existing budgets, which are devoted mainly to instructional costs, she said.

Several districts have said they could run out of money before the school year ends, Garrett said.

"In the meantime, they have got to try to work things out with their utility companies," she said.