Leaders from Sampson County Schools are hoping for the best when it comes to the future of driver’s education. But in the meanwhile, it may be placed on ice because of funding matters.
Herb Sanderson, director of driver’s education for district, and Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy discussed the program with the Board of Education as a result of North Carolina legislators making a decision to cease funding on July 1. Since then, Sanderson said the school system has been operating on “fumes.” Their plan was use fee money to upgrade the aging fleet of vehicles used for the program.
“That was our plan, but due to the General Assembly not coming up with a budget or the uncertainty of what that budget is, we’ve been operating on those funds,” Sanderson said.
Last year, SCS received more than $140,000 from the state to educate more than 600 student drivers. To help with cost, the district charged students a $65 fee, which increased by $10 from the previous school year.
“We spent all of that,” Bracy said regarding the total funding.
Currently, 10 instructors operate one vehicle apiece. Sanderson said the vehicles are being used efficiently, but they’re collecting a lot miles, which comes with needed repairs. When asked about cutting back, Sanderson said the program could get by with eight cars.
By the outlook, if the district was to continue the program without state money, more than $140,000 would have to be collected from local funds. Another alternative was to delay classes, which are scheduled to begin in September.
“We could delay the start of those classes in hopes of the General Assembly finishing the budget process and hopefully funding driver’s ed,” Bracy said.
Board Chairman Dewain Sinclair chimed in on the discussion and expressed his opinion on the insurance matter that comes with cutting driver’s education, stating it may result in a “public outcry.” Politically, Sanderson said legislators are divided on eliminating funding or finding other alternatives to do so, such as parents footing the bill. Another idea is to have community colleges operate a driver’s education program.
“Right now, it’s just the uncertainty of where we stand,” Sanderson said regarding the funding.
Gov. Pat McCrory granted legislators an August deadline and Bracy hopes the budget process will be finished soon. He also brought up how financial matters were not finalized until the fall. But he’s optimistic that the state’s budget will be complete by Aug. 31.
“It’s just difficult for us to go forward,” Bracy said. “We don’t have any local dollars that we can move to that.”
Previously, funding was provided to school systems based on students 14 1/2 years old. Driver’s education is also required for new driver’s to receive a license.
“We got to do it unless a state passes a bill saying it’s no longer a state-mandated program and abolish the program all together,” Sanderson said.
Board member Glenn Tart referenced a statistic regarding the amount of traffic accidents across the United States.
“There’s a need for driver’s education,” Tart said.
Currently, Sanderson and school officials are monitoring the financial situations. He also was concerned about the students who paid a fee, but have not finished the program.
“I just ask that those parents be patient as we get this resolved,” he said.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.