Private company to teach CCS driver's ed

An outside driver's education business will operate Catawba County Schools' program starting in the 2011-12 school year to avoid charging students a fee.

After the N.C. General Assembly allocated CCS $198 per child for driver's education, the Board of Education faced two options — charge students $45 to keep the program in-house or enter into an agreement with an outside driver's education program to teach students to drive.

"The way the bill is written, it's made our options very limited," CCS board member Sherry Butler said of legislation's binding CCS driver's education allotment.

CCS Superintendent Glenn Barger said if CCS didn't charge students $45, the school system would have to foot the bill, which totaled more than $20,000. In addition to the fee, the school system also had to consider the wear and tear of its current driver's education vehicles, according to Steve Demiter, CCS assistant superintendent of operations. Demiter said CCS has not purchased new vehicles for the program in a couple of years and was going to be due for an upgrade soon.

"Our budget is forcing you, as a board, to make very hard decisions," Demiter said.

The Board of Education received information about the driver's education situation at its June meeting. At that time, board members asked Demiter and CCS attorney Crystal Davis to pursue outside options and present the gathered information at Monday's meeting.

Demiter said the school system received a quote from the North Carolina Driving School and Jordan Driving School. Both driving schools offered CCS a quote of $198 per student to teach driver's education. The programs will include 30 hours of classroom instruction and 6 hours of drive time.

After a closed-session meeting Monday, board members agreed to enter into a contractual agreement with North Carolina Driving School. Barger said board members made the decision based on location. The driving school serves several school systems in Western North Carolina, including Hickory Public Schools and Caldwell County Schools. Barger said the driving school will provide the equipment and cars needed for the classes.

"By awarding this contract instead of (offering in-house instruction), it will avoid the need to charge students for participation," Barger said.

Barger said the school system's current driver's education teachers will have an option of being instructors with the North Carolina Driving School's approval, but will probably have to take a pay cut.

"We had no choice except to take (driver's education) to an outside (program)," said board member Steve Hilton. "It's nothing against the individuals who ran the program."

Davis said a meeting was held with current driver's education instructors July 11 to discuss the possibility of the board approving to move the program to outside providers.

"The instructors understood the position the board is in," Davis said.

Barger, along with board members, expect the same level of service provided by in-house employees in the driver's education program to be the same with North Carolina Driving School.

"I want to thank the instructors who have given years and years of dedicated service to this program," Barger said. "We certainly look forward to a relationship with the North Carolina Driving School and hope to continue to get that same quality of service without the collection of funds from individual students to participate in the program."