County cancels 2 days of school to save on gas

Associated Press

CHATTANOOGA — With high prices for diesel fuel squeezing school transportation budgets nationwide, one Tennessee school system took action on its own by canceling class for two days.

Dallas Smith, superintendent of Rhea County schools in east Tennessee, canceled school Friday and planned to do the same thing Monday to ease transportation spending.

The school closings in Rhea County were not authorized, said state Department of Education spokeswoman Rachel Woods, and no other Tennessee systems canceled class in response to fuel costs.

"It's still two days students could have been receiving instruction," Woods said.

Smith said Tennessee Department of Education officials previously announced at a meeting that extra snow days could be used if fuel prices rose. He did not respond to telephone messages seeking comment Friday.

Although the days off do not put Rhea County students below the state's required 180 days of instruction, Woods said she was unsure what, if any, action might be taken about the closings.

School board Chairman Harold "Bimbo" McCawley said the two-day closing of schools was justified. McCawley said the superintendent "made a decision to try to save some money for the taxpayers. ... I think it was a wise decision."

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