The SD308 Board of Education voted unanimously during a public hearing Monday evening to approve a waiver seeking permission from the state of Illinois to raise the fee it charges for driver’s education from the current $250 to $400, effective for the 2018-19 school year.
The board acted to request the higher fees as it continues its deliberations over a series of budget cuts aimed at reducing a projected $3 million deficit for the next school year.
The district is required to offer driver’s education to its students by state mandate. The course lasts for one semester, and is taught by state-certified teachers, integrating 30 hours in the classroom, six hours behind the wheel, and six hours of observation.
The program currently costs the district approximately $650 per student and, according to the district’s waiver application, if the waiver is not approved the district will have to divert funding from other academic programs to help fund driver’s education.
According to the district’s waiver request, in fiscal 2016-17, 865 students took driver’s education and the district spent $564,737 on the program, while the $250 fee generated $188,253 in revenue. The state reimbursement of $201,165 left the district with a total of $389,418 income for the program and a deficit of $175,318.
The numbers do not include students in the district who are on the free and reduced lunch program, as their fee for driver’s education is waived as part of the program. The district also can waive the cost of the program for students if, as the state puts it, the district superintendent or chief school administrator, “Deem(s) it to be in the best interest of the student.”
According to Dr. Lisa Smith, associate superintendent for educational services, if the district raises the fees as high as $400, the additional revenue would increase to roughly $300,000.
However, board member Brent Lightfoot pointed out that even with the adoption of the waiver and the proposed fee hike, the district would still have a deficit of about $200,000.
“I’ve heard from people in the community, and I agree, that we cannot balance our budget by raising fees,” Lightfoot said.
Board members also discussed the possibility of raising the fee beyond $400, possibly as high as $500. However, administrators advised the board that they could not request a fee higher than the $400 amount listed in the district’s waiver request notice. They noted the district has no time to file an updated public notice for a higher amount since the state’s waiver application deadline is Friday, Jan. 12.
Vice President Lauri Doyle pointed out that if the district raises the fee to $400, the district would still be looking at a deficit, mostly from the salaries paid to instructors.
The number of students dictates the number of teachers, Doyle said. “If we were to potentially go with $450 [in fees], one – it might reduce the number of students who take driver’s ed through our program because they are taking it from an outside course that’s the same price, if that’s what they want to do, and two – that would also decrease our expenses which could bring us a little closer to even,” Doyle said.
Board member Matt Bauman pointed out that many of the driver’s education cars come from Gjovik Chevrolet Buick GMC Inc. of Sandwich and asked if the district had looked at a partnership with any dealerships closer to Oswego to save on expenses.
Director of High School Education Jamie Max said that the district had found it difficult in the past to form partnerships with local dealerships, as, “Quite frankly, getting people to rent us cars for this particular purpose is extremely difficult, to the point where even the purchasing relationship with [Gjovik] has kind of flipped on us where we’re kind of glad they take our business, because we can’t find anyone because it’s so hard on the cars.”
Smith said that the district could look into other districts that purchase cars as opposed to renting.
Two parents addressed the board during the public comment portion of the hearing.
District parent Angie McCauley said, “Hearing all of this, it sounds like you guys don’t want the kids to take driver’s ed, yet it is a required course to graduate. ... For you to say you want to fund it 100 percent by parents, how can you make it a requirement to be part of the graduation process? It’s not right. If you choose to do the $400, $450, we will go private, and your numbers will go down. So it seems like you’re getting what you want, for those kids to go away.”
The next step for the district is for the Illinois State Board of Education to approve the waiver. If the ISBE approves, then the waiver will be passed along to the General Assembly for its approval. If the General Assembly does not approve the waiver, its decision cannot be appealed. If the ISBE does not approve the district’s waiver, the district can appeal its decision to the General Assembly.
The ISBE has 45 days to act on the waiver after receiving it. If approved, the waiver would last for five years, beginning with the 2018-19 school year.