Extreme Weather Conditions Stretch School Budgets

West Michigan school districts are feeling the sharp bite of winter in their budgets.

The polar vortex that has put most of the Midwest into a deep freeze this winter is costing school districts a substantial amount of extra money in heating costs. The winter has been especially brutal in Michigan. With over 17,000 students, the state’s largest district in Grand Rapids is almost $800,000 over budget thus far because of the “severe winter and cold,” director of financial services, Rhonda Kribs, told the school board recently. $3.3 million was originally budgeted for electricity and natural gas, she said.

Executive director of facilities for Grand Rapids Public Schools, Ken Klomparens, stated, “The system has to run harder in these conditions. It takes more energy to keep a building at 70 degrees when the temperature is zero or below than when it’s 30 degrees out.” All of West Michigan’s largest school districts will also be tapping into reserves, a recent survey showed.

The districts with 8,000 or more students in the survey will be doing so during the coldest months of the year. Assistant superintendent for finance at Rockford schools, Michael Cuneo, estimates to spend an extra $20,000 for electricity and about $50,000 more for gas. The district generally averages about $850,000 on electricity and around $340,000 on gas.

President of Reliable Energy, Brian Shea, said the school districts are trying to be efficient to keep energy usage under control and they are very conscious about their level of use. “School districts across the board are going to be consuming more because of this severe weather,” he said. “I have never known it to be this cold this many months in a row. From a demand standpoint, it is unprecedented.”

This winter is relentless, say school leaders; ice storms, snowstorms and subzero temperatures have forced multiple days of school closures due to hazardous road condition. Ottawa and Kent counties now have many schools that have now exceeded the six days allowed by the state for bad weather—days that students will have to make up this spring.

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