Tennessee Schools Close Due to Fuel Costs

The high price of diesel fuel for school buses meant children in one Tennessee school system got a holiday Monday — their second in a row.

Some 3,800 youngsters got Friday and Monday off because of the action taken by Dallas Smith, superintendent of Rhea County schools in east Tennessee, to ease transportation spending.

"That kind of situation is probably the most extreme I have heard," said Mike Martin, executive director of the National Association for Pupil Transportation, based in Albany, N.Y., and a spokesman for the Washington-based School Bus Information Council.

Martin described the price of diesel, which has risen above $2.80 in the East and to more than $3 a gallon on the West Coast, as a "huge problem for not only public sector but private sector operators as well."

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No other Tennessee systems have canceled classes in response to fuel costs.

The Rhea County closings were not authorized by the state, said Department of Education spokeswoman Rachel Woods.

Smith, however, said state education officials had announced previously that extra snow days could be used if fuel prices rose.

School Board Chairman Harold McCawley said the two-day closing was justified.

"Rhea County is a long county, 34 miles from end to end," McCawley said. "It's just a huge savings of fuel."

Rhea County Finance Director Brad Harris said county schools spent $14,000 on fuel in March, compared to $7,800 in March 2005. He said fiscal year to-date-spending was up from $68,000 to $102,500.

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue asked his state's public schools to close for two days in September to conserve fuel when Hurricane Rita threatened to shut down refineries. Perdue has "no regrets," spokeswoman Heather Hedrick said Friday.