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A Perfect Storm of Fuel and Fat (Part 1)

Posted August 25, 2008 6:00 AM by ShakespeareTheEngineer

Rising rates of childhood obesity, higher fuel prices, and a slumping real estate market are creating a budgetary crisis for America's public schools. Our response to this "perfect storm" may affect not just the health of millions of children, but U.S. competitiveness in science and technology.

Increased Fuel Prices Hammer Schools

Troubling trends in the U.S. economy are creating problems for school administrators trying to work out an accurate annual budget. As expenses soar, school officials are hard-pressed to determine accurate amounts for operating expenses. Unpredictable increases in fuel costs wreak havoc on school districts that are trying to estimate how much it will cost to get kids to and from school, field trips, sporting events, and fine arts performances. These increased costs have caused some to consider drastic measures.

America's schools may face some difficult choices. As Jerry Weast of the Montgomery County, Maryland school board told NBC Nightly News, "When we budgeted, oil was $77 per barrel. But it's now over $136. You could do away with about 100 teachers, raise class size … do away with support positions. What we have are tough choices in unpredictable times." Weast explains what many districts are feeling, but it isn't just transportation costs that are causing the strain.

Lunch Menus and Real Estate Markets

Recent and dramatic increases in the price of fuel have also resulted in rising costs at lunch time. This problem is exacerbated by the pressure for schools to provide healthier, lower-calorie items that are more expensive than the "sauce and cheese on cardboard" pizza that I ordered daily in middle school (with a side order of grease-saturated French fries). This situation may be further complicated by two issues that have received a lot of attention as of late, but perhaps not in the same discussion: a massive increase in childhood obesity and falling real estate prices.

School districts raise some of their money from local property taxes. When reassessment is completed, the recent slide in real estate means lower property values. Long-term home owners might be happy with the tax savings (and use this windfall to offset the higher cost of fuel), but the decrease in revenue for schools couldn't come at a worse time. Cutting staff and increasing class sizes won't improve America's competitiveness in science and technology – or in anything else for that matter.

Compound Interest

Unfortunately, this "perfect storm" of rising obesity rates, higher fuel costs, and a declining real estate market isn't just a matter of interest for school budgeteers. There may be a larger connection between them that is compounding their affect beyond what many previously thought. In Part 2 of this three-part series, we'll take a look at this.

Resources:

http://www.findingdulcinea.com/news/Americas/June-08/Gas-Prices-Force-Schools-to-Cut-Busing.html

http://blogs.webmd.com/heart-disease/2008/03/disconnect-in-childhood-obesity.html

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#1

Re: A Perfect Storm of Fuel and Fat (Part 1)

08/25/2008 9:58 AM

Interesting article, Shakespeare!

Often when I read about childhood obesity rates in the U.S. it's focused solely on the health risks. You are pointing out important facts. Recently I wrote an article based on a fact that said all Americans would be overweight in 40 years, and the effects of that. While I mentioned the effect that obesity would have on healthcare costs, I didn't factor in the cost of oil and transportation.

I hate to think that children may have to miss out on field trips, and extra teaching resources just because it costs too much to transport them - but I do see that it is necessary. It's sad, because learning outside the classroom is generally more fun and interesting.

It's upsetting to me that we've reached this point. When I was a child I was always doing some kind of sport or activity outside - as a result, I never had to worry about being overweight. Unfortunately, this is the era of television and video games. Kids don't want to play sports in real life, they'd rather play on their xbox.

Something needs to change, and soon. If more people were to connect the dots in this "perfect storm", then maybe they'd be inclined to show little Johnny or Jane how to live happily while still being healthy.

p.s. I love the image you've used.

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#2
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Re: A Perfect Storm of Fuel and Fat (Part 1)

08/25/2008 10:20 AM

Sharkles,

That is a large root of the problem. Video games have become so realistic that a lot of people now prefer them to reality. Instead of being outside reenacting Michael Jordan shooting the winning shot in the driveway, students can do it on NBA Live 2008 from the air conditioned comfort of the living room.

I did spend my fair share of time playing video games as a kid, but it was always secondary to being outside and engaging in activities, personally. Increasingly sedentary life seems to be a reality of getting older as injuries and medical problems eventually shelve most Americans from childhood pursuits they loved.

Granted, even though most of us have to retire from competitive sport at some point, there are most always venues to keep active.

My largest concern is that if kids grow up without a passion for physical activity, that sedentary life starts earlier. And one doesn't need to retire from being an "electronic athlete" ever, so there is little impetus to ever change.

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#3

Re: A Perfect Storm of Fuel and Fat (Part 1)

08/25/2008 1:16 PM

Interesting comments - and a reality being faced in my rural hometown school district. My district has three small, satellite elementary schools and all of the kids come together at a centralized middle/high school. (The district covers about 5 or 6 towns and a length of probably 20-30 miles.)

Because of heating and fuel costs (as well as all of the other rising expenses), the farthest two satellite elementary schools are to be closed eventually - which means some kindergartners could spend well over an hour on the bus each morning and afternoon. There are a lot of tough choices out there - a higher budget (or alternative energy choices) or a child's safety, well-being, and sanity?

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Re: A Perfect Storm of Fuel and Fat (Part 1)

08/25/2008 1:20 PM

And not a single one of them is something that really can be put on the back burner. When push comes to shove, my guess is that it will be the longer commutes.

At least it will prepare kids for the suburban sprawl commutes that they will most likely face as they get into the workforce.

I could also just be bitter that it took me 80 minutes to get to work today.

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#5
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Re: A Perfect Storm of Fuel and Fat (Part 1)

08/25/2008 1:26 PM

Yes, one of the schools is slated to close at the end of the '09 school year (my childhood K-3 school!). The thought of a first grader on a bus for more than 60 minutes twice a day is certainly a little scary (both for a bus driver and a parent). Most of the parents in the district are upset because they weren't given much choice in the matter - the board made the decision seemingly overnight.

My commute to work is 30 minutes each way and my commute to my "second job" is approximately an additional 40 minutes each way - so I feel your pain!

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#6
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Re: A Perfect Storm of Fuel and Fat (Part 1)

08/25/2008 1:31 PM

It seems like there is a lot of that going on. In my town they did the same thing and a near revolt by parents made the board reopen the issue (after MUCH public outcry).

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#7

Re: A Perfect Storm of Fuel and Fat (Part 1)

08/26/2008 12:49 AM

Why do other country get to buy our beef, chicken, or pork with growth hormones but we don't . Get the sugar out of foods too !!!!!!!!

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Re: A Perfect Storm of Fuel and Fat (Part 1)

08/26/2008 9:04 AM

Indeed. I hear it is all about high fructose corn syrup today.

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Re: A Perfect Storm of Fuel and Fat (Part 1)

08/26/2008 9:23 AM

I've been buying groceries without high-fructose corn syrup, and it's hard but doable. Buying 'organic' or 'natural' is tricky, because HFCS is sometimes included in those products too. Avoiding HFCS is not impossible though, and I highly recommend it if you can. I will admit that some of the products are slightly more expensive, but I've been working towards this for months and have seen prices start to drop.

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#10

Re: A Perfect Storm of Fuel and Fat (Part 1)

08/26/2008 9:30 AM

An interesting development:

http://cr4.globalspec.com/blogentry/6693

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#11

Re: A Perfect Storm of Fuel and Fat (Part 1)

08/26/2008 9:33 AM

When I was a child I walked to my neighborhood school. Social Engineers ( I use the term loosely) decided that children had to be bussed to schools to realize integration. This resulted in social termoil, did not improve learning for either the white children or the children of color and it started a new industry. The School Bus Industry and lobby. Now, administrators, teachers unions and bus lobbyists have joined forces first to make sure the "experiment" isn't declared a failure, even though it is, that the teachers union, being a union supports the Bus Drivers Union, and of course the bus lobby doesn't want its bread and butter to disappear especially since most of the school bus owners are 'Minorities".

Result: Children don't have the discipline to walk to school, are discipline problems in school because they have unused energy from sitting on a bus instead of walking, do not interact socially during their walk to school and generally misbehave and get hyper during their uncontrolled bus ride across town to support a failed policy.

Thank you social "engineers" thank you Civil Rights attorneys. Thank you "health care" professionals (now benefiting from the diseases of fat kids)

Sorry fat kids, to many people benefit from you being fat.

We, as adults, cannot generate the courage to reverse this travesty.

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#12
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Re: A Perfect Storm of Fuel and Fat (Part 1)

08/26/2008 9:38 AM

Many people have jobs because people are poor and uneducated too.

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#14
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Re: A Perfect Storm of Fuel and Fat (Part 1)

08/26/2008 10:09 AM

True no doubt but that is not the point. The point is the "Law of Unintended Consequences". These actions were intended to make poor children as well educated as everyone else so they wouldn't be poor too. What it did was the exact opposite of what was intended. Now the schools are as or more segregated than before and those children and the children who could have been walking to school are bussed and both categories are obese and unhealthy. Not to mention the fact that the teachers that teach are sometimes incompetant because they are the result of the systems they are working in and the children they teach have no chance as a result. Absolute nonsense!

Children are either overindulged, ignored and pampered. They are protected from heat and cold, they are protected from exertion and they are suffering from mental illnesses unecessarily so we can " do it for the children".

Let the brats walk, let the teachers give them a smack once in a while and return discipline to the school so the children can do what they do best: absorb all of knowledge the teacher can give them. Remember, no one ever wore out their brain, no matter how hard they used it.

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Re: A Perfect Storm of Fuel and Fat (Part 1)

08/26/2008 10:17 AM

Morgan,

If things were taken care of in the home, there wouldn't be a need for teachers to have to raise a hand. When children are taught that it is okay to disrespect authority outright and not to question in appropriate channel, it becomes a problem (and there are some members of every authority group that DO deserve disrespect because they abuse their power).

There is also mass fear of childhood abduction, added to by the power of the internet (See Sharkles' piece on cyber stalking), which makes many parents fear for their kids well being if they walk. It is an overblown (as in not as likely as people think), but still real fear (as in it happens enough to make most parents fear the worst).

I guess if you have kids walking together in droves, the problem would take care of itself. I also present a solution to this is Part 3 (coming tomorrow) called The Walking School Bus.

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Re: A Perfect Storm of Fuel and Fat (Part 1)

08/27/2008 12:02 AM

Several if the elementary school her are located off of 4 lane highways and no side walks. Cars running 50 to 70 miles and hour with several accident each week over in the fences along that road.

Only 2 schools are located in town but still the sidewalks no longer exist all the way to school so you know they will end up in the street.

Seems the government not requiring sidewalks anymore was meant to divide the people and keep us from talking or organizing as a community.

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Re: A Perfect Storm of Fuel and Fat (Part 1)

08/27/2008 7:08 AM

It's hard to believe that a school is surrounded by 4-4 lane highways all with cars driving 70+ miles per hour. However my comments do not apply to rural districts and all situations. That should be obvious or I should have made it clear. The travisty of bussing is in the cities where there are sidewalks and where neighborhood schools do exist within walking distance to a home. I am in a suburban area and our children are required to walk up to one mile to school. Over that, the children are bussed and we pay for it with our taxes. Our schools are excellent and we spend less on education than the Chicago schools that cannot graduate over 40% of their students.

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Re: A Perfect Storm of Fuel and Fat (Part 1)

08/27/2008 9:39 AM

my comments do not apply to rural districts and all situations.

And that is important to note, Morgan 23. No answer will work for every community. If walking to the school is not possible because of rural distance or unsafe roads, perhaps the central bus stop idea could work.

Each community needs to take it's own physical structure into account. In most cases, a mix of solutions will most likely be need.

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Re: A Perfect Storm of Fuel and Fat (Part 1)

08/26/2008 10:02 AM

Be sure to read Part 3, in particular, as I get into this very topic (although not from the civil rights perspective).

A very interesting take. Thank you for sharing it.

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#19

Re: A Perfect Storm of Fuel and Fat (Part 1)

10/07/2008 2:18 PM

I believe that this is true because you cant fit as many fat kids as you can you can skinny kids on as bus, therefore we are using more busses and more gas to transport the fat kids to school. The parents of the fat kids should drive them.

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Re: A Perfect Storm of Fuel and Fat (Part 1)

10/09/2008 7:28 AM

While that does decrease fuel costs for the school, it doesn't deal with the fact that there is childhood obesity in pandemic proportions, nor does it reduce the amount of fuel used by a community.

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#21

Re: A Perfect Storm of Fuel and Fat (Part 1)

10/10/2008 11:19 PM

When do we get the Food Police arresting people for eating the "wrong" foods. people being denied insurance or sent to "fat" camps? While I try to eat healthy foods, I do compromise, I am not a fanatic purist. Organic is nice, but if all farming was organic there would be less food and it would look less appealing.

Part of the problem with children exercising is the parental overprotection and societal overprotection due to crimes against children. They are kept indoors because playgrounds, parks and even yards are seen as being too dangerous to let kids play.

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