CMS hopes to end restrictions on busing soon

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools hopes to lift its fuel-saving ban on after-hours busing as early as Saturday, officials said Wednesday.

By the end of the day Wednesday, the district had more than two days' diesel on hand, compared with just over three days' supply during normal times.

If today's delivery arrives, CMS expects to lift its ban on field trips, middle-school sports and some after-school programs.

Interim Chief Operating Officer Tyler Ream hopes to announce plans for next week this afternoon or Friday morning. If the supply looks good, he said, he'll also clear the way for Saturday busing to high-school band trips and other scheduled events.

CMS restricted after-hours busing Monday, after Hurricane Ike disrupted fuel supplies from the Gulf Coast. The district has storage for 70,000 gallons of diesel, a little more than three days' supply for 1,270 buses covering 141,000 miles a day. Missed deliveries had the reserve down to one day by the end of Monday.

Associate Superintendent Guy Chamberlain said he hopes to double CMS's storage capacity by the end of this school year, leaving busing less vulnerable to shortages in future hurricane seasons. A 40,000-gallon storage facility is under construction, due to open this fall, and Chamberlain said he hopes to get clearance to spend $300,000 to $400,000 to build another that would open in spring.

Chamberlain said CMS has avoided the “predatory pricing” he had feared if suppliers had to go outside normal channels; CMS has continued to pay the $3.22 a gallon set out in the state contract. That price can rise or fall based on market conditions.

“I'm not a gambling man,” he said, “but I'd say prices are going to go up.”