County schools suspend drivers ed program

Over the past two years the General Assembly has made a number of cuts to educational spending statewide. Those cuts are now starting to hit home in Surry County.

One victim is the driver’s education program, which has 223 students enrolled for the fall semester, plus another 63 who have already taken the classroom portion of the course but have yet to do the required road driving portion.

The Surry County Board of Education on Monday night temporarily suspended the program while waiting for state officials to make a decision on a potential new program that would shift driving training to community colleges. The Legislature has already opted against funding the program for public schools.

Locally, county students had been charged $65 for the course, with the rest of the $300 cost paid by the state. Now, school officials said, those students will be able to get a refund on the money they’ve paid, or go ahead and take the class without the behind-the-wheel time. Those who have already completed the coursework will be allowed to finish their on-road training.

The board will not have a final answer as to whether the program will permanently end until possibly as late as October while the state Senate and House of Representatives battle over the particulars of the driver’s ed programs statewide.

Another round of cuts proposed by the General Assembly will take teacher assistants out of the classrooms. The cut would mean 1,760 fewer teacher assistants in the next school year across the state and 5,062 in 2016-2017.

While cutting the teacher assistant positions, the state would add about about 2,000 teacher positions.

The county school board discussed eliminating local funding to tutoring programs — $440,000 for 57 tutors — to try and keep teacher assistants, which would affect multiple part-time employees. There are 161 teaching assistants in the school system.

The school board plans to meet again on Thursday with the school system’s teacher assistants to discuss their plans.

In other action Monday, the board:

– Listened to a proposal for an employees cell phone cost-sharing plan. The school system receives funds through the E-rate program for discounted telecommunications, Internet access, and internal connections. The state cut all funding for this program with those cuts taking effect over the next four years.

The school system uses Carolina West Wireless as a provider for these services, with 106 phones in use by employees with the average plan cost of each phone line between $50 to $70 a month.

The cost of the cell phone usage totals $65,000 annually, with the schools paying $12,000 of the total cost and the state funding the remaining $53,000.

The board has proposed that the employees use a personal cell phone with any service provider they choose, and the school will pay each employee $20 per month toward their individual phone plan.

The cost would be part of a three-year budget plan and reviewed annually.

The board has not yet taken action on this plan.

– Approved $15,000 of a $38,300 project at Surry Central High School to improve the back entrance way to athletic fields. The project would replace the walkways and pave a new parking by the recreational fields and put up a fence to keep visitors from driving across fields. The difference would be raised by the booster clubs to fund the remaining costs.

– Approved two new adjustable basketball goals in the Franklin Elementary gymnasium, with the cost split between the board, Dale McKnight and Annette Reese.

– Approved four new contracts for the Exceptional Children contracts, which funds four students who require a nurse to be available at all times during their school day.

– Approved a $20,895 project for North Surry, including new score boards and a back-stop for the baseball field.

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