School buses and special vans for children with disabilities may soon run out of fuel if no funding is immediately identified by the Public School System.
Education Commissioner Rita A. Sablan, Ph.D., described the lack of money to buy fuel for student transportation as an immediate challenge because it may render the school bus fleet non-operational.
Sablan signed yesterday a purchase order for $1,000 worth of fuel for Rota buses. Noting the higher fuel cost on the island, she said this is only good for three days.
Sablan cited the same critical situation for Saipan buses, where gas replenishment is scheduled every two to three days.
Despite having an account for fuel expenses, PSS cannot use it without a certified funding for the purpose, she said.
“So whatever we put into our buses, that's all that we have. That's why we ask our partners on Capital Hill to help us to ensure that our school buses will continue to operate,” she told Saipan Tribune.
Sablan pointed out that PSS is already operating at a “huge deficit” this fiscal year. Schools are now dipping into their educational tax credit monies to help address their immediate needs such as fuel and supplies, she added.
PSS was only allocated $30 million this fiscal year. Of that amount, only $2 million is for operations, including utilities and fuel costs; the rest goes to personnel costs.
Sablan said that PSS is counting on the “roll-over” funds amounting to $4 million from the central government. This represents the unremitted budget allotments for PSS in previous fiscal years. But how soon this will be transferred to PSS remains uncertain.
According to Jack Sablan, PSS pupil transportation department manager, PSS needs about $400 for a week's worth of fuel for just one bus on Saipan, while each van needs about $300.
Saipan has 16 buses and seven special vans for special education students.
On a monthly basis, Sablan said that PSS has to come up with about $34,000 to meet the fuel supply for its Saipan bus fleet alone.
For Tinian's two buses and vans, PSS has to set aside $500 weekly for fuel or some $2,000 a month.
“I am really worried because we're very tight and I am afraid of what may come next for PSS,” said Commissioner Sablan, adding that more than 50 percent of PSS' students are bus riders.
According to Jack Sablan, in addition to the double-session at Kagman Elementary School, some school buses on Saipan have to do double runs because of an increase in the number of riders. At KagES alone, two buses are stationed at the campus every day, he said.