..Jon Simonds..

Up in the Morning & Off to School

I stand nervously at the entrance of my apartment complex, clutching the tiny hand of my five year old daughter, Kaitlyn. It is her first-ever day at school and for somebody embarking on a whole new chapter of life, she is relatively calm. I, on the other hand, seemed to have fallen into my father's old brown shoes and I never even saw them coming and then Kaitlyn is jumping.

She sees the school bus rolling towards us and can no longer contain herself. She's a big girl, now. The bus lumbers up to the curb. I drop to one knee and we share an embrace and then she climbs aboard. The school bus doors close. The flashing red lights turn to amber. The bus pulls away and I stand there thinking, not about her future, but about fuel!

This year, the cost of diesel fuel is approximately $1.02 per gallon. Last year, the buses serving the 42 Manatee County Schools burned roughly $633,000.00, or better than half a million dollars, shuttling our kids to and from school. While these bright yellow dinosaurs are a permanent fixture on our landscape, there are alternative means of moving our youngsters about.

Capstone Turbine along with Chargeking Energy have a hybrid electric bus, featuring an onboard microturbine generator that charges the battery packs powering the bus while the vehicle is in use. This eliminates the need for gear boxes, pumps, mechanical subsystems and most impressively, oil, lubricants and coolants. It doubles the fuel mileage, which would cut the cost of fuel in half, effectively reducing the school budget while increasing school spending in other areas. It needs service every 30,000 miles, but the service is limited to simply changing an air filter.

Said buses are effectively being used in Beijing, China; New Zealand, Arizona and Los Angeles.

The oil companies are making a fortune on School Boards all across America. Why are our elected officials so reluctant to offer our schools a cost cutting, environmentally friendly means of transportation? Other Corporations that serve the schools of Manatee County include Verizon, FPL and AOL/Time Warner.

To my utter surprise, AOL/Time Warner provides their services to the schools of Manatee County, absolutely free. They do not charge to wire the schools, nor do they charge to provide the schools with cable services.

FPL, boasting nearly a 3/4 of a billion dollar profit for the last fiscal year presents the school board with one hefty electric bill. For fiscal year 2000, the school board doled out a cool 4.9 million dollars in electric costs. (See their web page: www.FPL.com.) While I don't expect any power company in America to provide free service to our public schools, surely our elected officials could see a way to cut this enormous cost through corporate tax breaks and tax incentives. Or, perhaps the Sunshine State should take a good look at solar energy, with electricity as an emergency back-up.

Verizon, which provides a 61% discount, and Suncom Systems, can see nearly a half million dollars a year in phone charges.

And why is the Federal Government charging school boards across the country for postage? If the Fed allocates money to the states for education and the states allocate money to School Boards, why are we giving money back to the Fed when we need to mail out report cards, or school notices? Am I missing something here?

Through proper education, we can assault such social woes as crime, racism, disease and poverty. The better we educate our children, the greater understanding they will possess in dealing with the problems facing our communities. Slashing school budgets by doing away with library books, teachers, extra-curricular activities and field trips reflects a lack of support for our system of education on the part of our elected officials and business leaders.

John Lennon once said, "There are no problems, only solutions." The very future of our nation depends entirely on what we do today. Shouldn't we start seeking those solutions?

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