These days, few public school districts have the luxury of extra money just lying around.
Take for example Elkhart Community Schools, which had to cut $7 million from its 2011 budget because of decreased state funding and property tax revenues. That forced district leaders to get creative by going green.
After hiring a consulting group, the district re-aligned its energy usage from top-to-bottom. That meant training students and staff to be better at the simple things, like powering down electronics and closing blinds at night.
Now two years later, students at Woodland Elementary are so green, the school burns only half the energy it did in 2009.
"It’s very surprising because we feel like it hasn't been a huge impact in our behavior. It's those little things that have made a huge difference,” Woodland Elementary principal John Payne said.
In October alone, Woodland Elementary saved $4,000 in energy bills. Around the corner, Elkhart Memorial High School cut $12,000 during the same month.
In 2009, Elkhart Community Schools spent $4 million on energy costs.
After implementing its energy reduction plan in 2010, that number dropped to $3,155,000.
This year, it’s expected to dip as low as $2.9 million; a decrease of more than twenty-five percent in only two years.
"A teaching position is roughly costing the school district about $50,000. So you can do the math from there to figure, we're talking a lot of people that would have been out of jobs if we would not have been able to create the energy savings that we have achieved,” said Doug Hasler, executive director of support services.
"It has been one of those hidden gems. We've found the ability to save this money and at the same time, teach our students and our families to be better conservationists,” Payne concluded.
Heating and cooling technology is so advanced these days, building thermostats can actually be controlled off-sight.
That came in handy last week when Elkhart Schools had a two-hour fog delay. Once the delay was put in place, building custodians jumped online from home and stopped school furnaces from igniting at their regular start time. District leaders say it's those little steps that help make a big difference.
Elkhart Community Schools are not alone when it comes to cutting energy costs.
The South Bend Community School Corporation lowered its energy costs after implementing a reduction plan of its own three years ago.
In 2008, SBCSC paid $5,039,309 in utilities. By 2009, that number was at $4,857,082. Last year, SBCSC paid only $4,376,872, saving $844,664 in only two years.
An official with Goshen Community Schools says his district has slashed energy costs by $365,000 a year.
St. Joseph Public Schools’ energy bills peaked at $734,000 in 2003. Since then, the district has worked to trim usage by $185,000 to the $549,000 it spent in 2010.