State officials seeking help for schools facing higher energy costs

Friday, January 27th 2006, 10:09 am
By: News On 6

The high cost of heating is hitting Oklahoma's schools as badly as it hurt homeowners. The state Board of Education unanimously approved an addition $17-million to help schools pay the bills.

As News on 6 reporter Joshua Brakhage explains, administrators are doing all they can to keep their schools warm and on budget.

Oklahoma Union in Nowata County may be a smaller school district, but they still have big bills to pay. Superintendent Robert Jobe says the amount it costs to heat the school this winter could jump by as much as 30 to 50 percent. That means "computing a way to" pinch pennies and cut corners, without compromising education. "Janitorially, we're down one and a half people, and those are places where we're trying to move those things to hopefully make up the difference."

Tulsa Public Schools are already $3-million over budget in their heating bills. Other districts like Broken Arrow, Sand Springs, and Claremore are breaking even, but have a relatively mild winter to thank. The same is true at Oklahoma Union. Robert Jobe: "If we were having to use the same amount of energy we used in normal winters, our cost would be astronomical."

For years, portable classrooms have been money pits. Teachers held class in buildings that could barely hold the heat. Since the beginning of the year, the students at Oklahoma Union have been able to move out of portable buildings and into a new energy efficient middle school they just built on site.

Students in the middle school for the first time don't miss the old classrooms. 8th grader Carla Ott: "They were always cold, and the floor was all rickety, and I'm glad we got our new building." And the budget is happier still. The brand-new building should save a bundle on the heating bill.

Rural schools like Oklahoma Union are also feeling the pinch with high diesel prices. They hope the state's extra money for fuel will help them make budget there too.