Last updated: August 27. 2014 7:16AM - 477 Views
By Chase Jordan cjordan@civitasmedia.com

Chase Jordan / Sampson IndependentJeff Sawvell, a driver's education instructor, gives lessons to student Anna Starling.
Chase Jordan / Sampson IndependentJeff Sawvell, a driver's education instructor, gives lessons to student Anna Starling.
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Driving instructor Jeff Sawvel sat in the passenger seat of an old Ford Taurus as he taught a Clinton High School student the rules of the road Tuesday.

With the new school year under way, many students will get behind the wheel of a Driver’s Education vehicle. But it will not be free.

“It’s unfortunate that we have to charge the parents,” Sawvel said. “Just a few year ago, we didn’t charge the parents anything.”

Those parents are going have to pay $10 more now, though.

The Clinton City Board of Education gave the green light to increase the fee for Driver’s Education from $55 to $65 at a work session Monday.

The decision came after Clyde Locklear, finance and facility director, updated the board on the status of the program.

Locklear said state officials are allowing school systems to increase the fee. Last year, the district charged $5 for the program.

“That money is to help offset the reduction in state funding,” he said about the increase.

For the upcoming school year, they are allowed to increase it to $65

During the 2015-16 school year, Locklear said it’s important to note that state funding for the program will be eliminated.

“It doesn’t eliminate the program,” Locklear said. “We still have to provide the program and we can provide it with the $65 we can charge each child.”

Sawvel said the cars are getting up there in age.

“Sixty or seventy thousand miles on a Driver’s Ed car is almost like dog years,” Sawvel said. That’s another issues we have to look at, too. With the state’s cuts, it’s not that easy to replace your vehicles.”

Another alternative is for the district to supplement the program with their funds.

“That’s another program that’s getting passed on to local boards to be funded locally, with no state support,” he said.

If the district was to pick up the tab, it could cost between $50,000 and $60,000.

“It’s obviously going to take away from something if we have to do it, unless the money we get expands,” he said. “We have to look hard at trying to make it happen.”

Regardless if the district can afford to operate the program or not, they are required to have a Driver’s Education program for students. During the year, the district will look at alternatives.

Locklear indicated that $65 won’t stretch as far as it will take for the system to run the program as it should be.

“That’s almost impossible for us in the district to teach, buy gas, put tires on the car, keep the car repaired and all the things it takes to run a program,” he said.

City school officials said it takes close to $300 to educate one student.

The district is receiving more than $44,000 from the state for driver’s education. That amount is based on the amount of ninth-grade students at $195 each.

Sawvel said the amount has probably been cut by almost 50 percent in the last six or seven years.

CHS offers Driver’s Education for all students who are 14 1/2 and older. After successful completion of a 30-hour class, students are allowed to drive with instructors for six hours.

CHS principal Dr. Steven Miller said resources are also provided to home school and private students.

Like Sawvel, he’s also concerned about car repairs and questions where the money is going to come from.

“I’m not happy with the changes that are coming down the pike, because that is clearly an unfunded mandate,” Miller said.

Miller said officials are investigating other alternatives.

“We’re always open to that,” he said. “It’s not cast in stone. If we can find a better way to save resources for the taxpayer, we’ll do that. It comes at the expense of change and doing things differently. We’re in a small community, so different is tough to get used to.”

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