High fuel prices hit schools

By Heather Michon

High fuel prices are hitting everyone’s wallets these days – including Fluvanna County Public Schools.

With a fleet of diesel buses and vehicles and two schools that rely on fuel oil for winter heating, FCPS routinely negotiates fixed prices with suppliers. 

The system’s current rates are around $4.66 a gallon for diesel and $4.79 for heating oil. But during the monthly school board meeting on Thursday night (Nov. 10), there was a question as to whether the diesel supplier would honor the set price in the face of a global supply crunch.

“Our vendor assured us that we will continue to have diesel fuel, but they are not able to hold our lock-in price right now,” Finance Director Brenda Gilliam told the board. “They tell us they’ll be able to revert back to our lock-in price after this kind of [supply] crisis has passed,” presumably after the holidays.  

Superintendent Peter Gretz said the whole situation was “pretty convoluted” and the school’s attorney was looking at the contracts to see if the vendor was violating the exact terms of the agreement and if FCPS had any recourse.

Gilliam said she had been in discussions with both the transportation and operations department heads to see if they could reduce the use of their diesel-powered vehicles in the short term, but she anticipated that the fuel budget would take a significant hit over the winter. 

Budget season

The meeting marked the first for Rivanna Representative Andre Key, appointed to fill the seat of his late wife, Gequetta Murray-Key, who passed away in October. As Chair James Kelley (Palmyra) was participating remotely, the meeting was chaired by Perrie Johnson (Fork Union). Andrew Pullen (Columbia) was absent for the evening. 

With work on the 2023-2024 budget about to begin, members approved a calendar of planning sessions to take place over the next three months. 

Johnson said one thing she would be advocating for the next budget was a pay increase for school board members. Each board member receives a small monthly stipend for their work, and it has been several years since it was last increased. “I don’t want money to be the reason someone doesn’t take a position on the board,” she said.

As a first step, Kelley asked staff to investigate the salaries paid to school board members in comparable districts.

Earlier in the meeting, members unanimously declined to accept a bonus that was going out to staff and faculty this month.      


Gilliam said the final unexpended fund balance for November was just over $1.3 million. Unexpended funds are returned to the county, but the schools can ask the Board of Supervisors to approve the use of the funds to cover unexpected expenditures or projects that might need to be started during the current fiscal year.

After discussion, the members agreed on a $794,000 package of requests: 

$250,000 to cover the rise in fuel prices

$100,000 for a new public address system at the high school

$300,000 in bonuses for school faculty and staff to match those given to other county staff

$144,000 to retrofit a dozen school buses with air-conditioning units

The package will go before the supervisors at an upcoming meeting.


During the final round of public comments, Central Elementary School’s longtime music teacher Darrell Baughan took a moment to pay tribute to Principal Amy Barnabei and Assistant Principal Rebecca Smith. 

Baughan said in 34 years at the school, he’s worked with many principals and administrators, but “none come anywhere close to Rebecca and Amy. These two ladies are not just one in a million, they’re more like one in a trillion. I’ve never witnessed any two people who have been as wonderful with children as they are. They’re kind, they’re caring, they’re compassionate, they’re full of love for every single child and staff member in their building.”

He thanked them for helping him cope with the final illness and death of his father the previous year. “That was one of the toughest years of my entire life,” and Rebecca Smith, in particular, had provided comfort and encouragement throughout the ordeal. “There were mornings I didn’t want to get out of bed. She got me through that.”

Baughan said, like so many people, he had played the $2 billion Powerball and “I was a bit disappointed when none of my numbers matched at all. But as I was going to bed the other night and saying my prayers, I realized I had already hit the jackpot years ago when Amy Barnabei and Rebecca Smith came to Central to be our principals.”

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