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Schools Turn Down The Heat As Natural Gas Prices Surge Amid Shortage

(AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
In this July 24, 2009 file photo, shows a Honeywell thermostat, for sale at a hardware store in Palo Alto, Calif.

Utilities are asking residents to turn down the heat as widespread power outages in Texas and Oklahoma limit natural gas production and shipments to the Midwest. Now, the fallout of the winter storms is having a chilling effect on central Illinois classrooms.

Tremont District 702 will be lowering the thermostat to save money until prices and natural gas supplies normalize.

Superintendent Sean Berry said a heating bill in February is normally around $6,000 to $7,000. This year, that bill might reach $60,000.

"We're keeping the lines of communication open, and we'll update families as we go through this," Berry said.

In Minonk, Fieldcrest CUSD Supeintendent Kari Rockwell said the district normally pays a fixed $3 per dekatherm rate on natural gas. But the shortage may drive that up to $25 to $250 per dekatherm.

"We have decided to lower the temperatures in all four buildings until the temperatures even out, hoping this will get us through this tough spot," she said.

Farmington District 265 Superintendent Zac Chatterton said temperatures in its buildings will hover in the mid-to-high 60s during upcoming school days. He's advising students to dress in warmer clothing this week. So far, he said the community's reaction hasn't been overly negative.

"The things that we administrators struggle with and feel like are going to be a big issue, we are so pleasantly surprised with staff, students, families, and communities understanding flexibility, and willingness to adapt," Chatterton said.

In Morton, where the village-owned gas utility asked residents and businesses to crank the heat down a few notches earlier this week to avoid nasty surprises on their bills, the local school district also is helping out.

"We're just trying to do our part," said Morton 709 Superintendent Jeff Hill.

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