Elkin City Schools officials, county and state elected officials discuss driver’s ed and facility needs funding

By Wendy Byerly Wood - wbyerly-wood@civitasmedia.com

Editor’s Note: This is the last in a series of articles about concerns of Elkin City Schools officials and discussion held between the school system and local, state and national elected officials during a dinner held Jan. 7 in Elkin.

The state’s handling of driver’s education funding was one of many topics discussed by school and elected officials during a dinner meeting last week hosted by Elkin City Schools in the Elkin High School media center. Another topic brought up was the state of educational facilities in the county and the cost to update, renovate and repair those by county officials.

Driver’s ed funding brought up by legislators

While many of the concerns and topics discussed were initiated by the local school officials Thursday, Senator Randleman explained the story of the driver’s education funding, which was feared to be completely eliminated on the state level during the budget process for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

“Driver’s ed is tough,” she said, explaining that a Program Evaluation committee, which is allowed to research any facet of government and is made up of a nonpartisan group of attorneys, chose to look into driver’s education.

“Their results found there was no correlation between teen driver’s safety and driver’s education,” said Randleman, who acknowledged depending on how someone studies something the conclusion could probably be made either way. “From that evaluation, the committee made recommendations.”

One of those recommendations initiated a pilot program for virtual driver’s ed in which the book work was taught online in five counties.

“This driver’s ed issue has continued,” she said. “In 2014, funding was eliminated, and then this year a fee was implemented for those who don’t register their vehicle properly.”

Those fees are designated to a fund to pay for driver’s education. “There was no steady stream of funding for driver’s education, and that is the steady stream,” she said, noting the first year there was no money in the fund because it had just begun. “The second year, there was a little over $27 million in the budget for driver’s ed.

“It is hard for parents to come up with $250,” she said of the typical private fee for driver’s education. “They are taxpayers, then they shouldn’t have to pay that.”

School facility needs discussed

“Educational facilities is something at the local and state level” which is a growing concern, said Superintendent Dr. Randy Bledsoe, pointing out the aging schools across the state, while new charter school facilities continue to be built and take resources from the traditional school systems.

But Surry County Commissioner Larry Phillips asked for patience from school officials as the county determines how to handle a $175 million request by the county’s three school systems to meet facility needs.

“How do we get there as a county?” Phillips said. “‘Why can’t you just raise taxes?’ I’ve been asked. That represents 17 cents on the tax rate. Go find me 10 volunteers who want to do that, and then how do we finance the rest of the many needs to operate the county?

“I ask for one word — that you be patient,” he said. “The county government is having a tough time.

“Be patient with us, because the school system is as important as all, they are all one part of county government,” said Phillips of the other things which must be funded by the county. “We’ve got to get this right. Realistically, we are in a county with a flat tax rate and no economic growth with a $74 to $78 million budget, and then we are hit with a $175 million capital request.”

The dinner closed with comments from Mike Fenley, field representative for U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, and Rep. Kyle Hall, communications director for U.S. Rep. Mark Walker.

“I appreciate the support you give us,” said Haley Sullivan, vice chair of the Elkin City Schools Board of Education. “I know there are places in the state where they don’t have that support.”

Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.

By Wendy Byerly Wood


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