High utility bills cutting into USD 348 budget
Although the hot summer months are long gone, the Baldwin School District continues to battle expensive utility costs, especially electricity.
The cost of those bills and how much USD 348 is paying for its utilities sparked a discussion at the board of education meeting last week. The school board approved the October utility bills, but it asked Superintendent Paul Dorathy why the bills were high in October.
“October's bills are still running ahead of where we'd like them to be budget wise,” Dorathy said. “We are continuing to work on different strategies to work on that.”
The main contention with Dorathy and the school board is the electrical bill for the district. For the month of October, the district paid $37,316.58 for electricity and heat. The majority of the bill was for electricity as the heat bill cost the district $2,202.86.
The school district's electricity and heat bill from July 1 through Oct. 31 has totaled $179,353.06. Last year's bill for the same time frame cost $110,216.59. Dorathy said the city's increased fees and the recently added peak demand charge have accounted for some of the increase, but he knows there are more issues causing the problems.
“Part of it is incentive for staff to understand that although it may not be as comfortable as they might like it, they need to stick within that policy,” Dorathy said. “It does make a big difference with saving money.”
Baldwin High School, which is the largest building as far as square footage in the district, has the highest electricity and heating bill during the fiscal year. Baldwin High's bills have accumulated $53,288.57. That includes a $10,208.62 bill in October and $14,549.37 in September.
Baldwin Junior High School's bills are slightly behind BHS. BJHS has cost the district $49,104.05 since July 1. In October, BJHS's bill was $10,534.72.
During the first four months of the fiscal year, the two elementary schools' bills combined to cost $49,703.33. The heat remained off at the unused Marion Springs and Vinland elementary schools. However, the two schools cost the district $1,922.79 in electricity.
Dorathy told the school board that if the district continues at this pace, it will get to a point where drastic measures have to be taken.
“If we keep going the way we're going, we'll be cutting into supply budgets,” Dorathy said. “We don't have any other places to go. It comes down to this ― if we can't afford it, we can't afford it. It's getting to be too much.”
He also said he and other USD 348 administrators are looking into why the electricity bill continues to be high, despite temperatures dropping. Dorathy said part of the problem is staff members setting temperature controls higher or lower than the district policy calls for, while another problem is leaving lights on too long.
“The fine line here is how many lights do we leave on at night,” Dorathy said. “Some people see those lights on and say we need to shut them off. The problem is when you shut off lights and it doesn't have to be all of them, we have vandalism to our buildings. If we keep the lights on, we don't have vandalism. It's a fine line as to where you draw the line as to how many lights ought to be on or off and how long are they on.”
The school district is planning on fixing the problem at BHS during the summer months. BHS has two air conditioning systems ― one for the gym and one for the rest of the school. BHS office staff works during the summer months, so they turn the system on while they are in the building, which also cools the majority of the school.
However, that will hopefully change next summer. The district is planning on installing an air conditioning system in the BHS office that could be used for the office only. The installation is planned as a capital outlay project for this year.
“It will help a lot in June and July and some in August,” Dorathy said. “We're looking at installing a unit in the office, so when they're in there, we can turn that on and leave the large unit off during the summer. That should result in quite a bit of savings. But it won't help right now and it wasn't our problem during October.. We need to solve our problem right now.”