Staff Writer

Driver-education classes will now cost Lincoln County students, or their parents, $50, following a vote Tuesday night by the Board of Education.

During a discussion on budget updates, the group made the move at the recommendation of school administrators.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Steve Zickefoose explained that the program was $9,800 over budget last year and, due to recent state funding cuts, is projected to have an overall shortage of more than $20,000 moving forward.

Roughly $210,000 is allotted for the program locally.

The state began allowing districts to charge for driver-education classes two years ago to make up for budget shortfalls, capping that amount at $55, he said.

Superintendent Sherry Hoyle noted that $28,000 of the total amount spent on the program by the system covers roughly 150 youth who aren’t actually enrolled in Lincoln County Schools, many of them home-schooled students.

While they’d been able to hold off the last few years, she said, a change was necessary.

Zickefoose suggested that the board members consider a rate of $35, to be “implemented as quickly as possible,” in order to break even.

Board member Bob Silver, who stressed that driver education was a “privilege, not a right,” said he thought $40 would be more appropriate in order to allow for wiggle room.

Vice Chairman Mark Mullen, however, made the motion to raise the fee to $50, saying the cost was comparable to filling up a car’s tank of gas.

Clayton Mullis was the lone School Board member to oppose the move.

Also during talks on the budget, the board voted unanimously to allocate $294,000 of available balance from the county to raise teacher supplements.

Silver, who made the motion, said it would send a message to educators that they are appreciated.

The overall reduction when comparing state funds to planning allotments is $3.8 million, which will result in the net loss of eight certified positions, including six teachers and two instructional-support staff members. These will now be paid for out of the fund balance.

Class sizes will also have to be increased.

“Read to Achieve” program

The Board of Education was also updated Tuesday night on the North Carolina General Assembly’s “Read to Achieve” program, part of a state law passed in July of 2012 and taking effect this school year.

The initiative requires that all third-grade students have reading levels that are proficient, based on end-of-grade testing, or else be held back.

Various courses of action will follow should a student not pass the assessment, including retests, a six- to eight-week summer-reading camp — if parental permission is given to enroll the student — and transitional fourth-grade classrooms with intense reading instruction.

“Good cause” exemptions may also apply.

Over the next few weeks, various informational materials will be distributed to parents of local third-graders to make them aware of the changes.

Board members made clear their feelings on the program, with several asking questions that administrators pointed to as identified challenges associated with the initiative.

Inquiries ranged from how students being pulled out of their fourth-grade classes to receive reading instruction will make up for that lost classroom time and whether it wouldn’t be better to hold students back in earlier grades.

Frustration was also expressed over the additional responsibilities required of local school systems despite less state funding granted.

“Where they think they’re helping, they’re hurting,” Chair Candy Burgin said of state lawmakers.

In other School Board action at Tuesday’s meeting:

Board members approved an employee-benefit package that includes lower premiums and broader coverage.

Board members approved various policies, to stand open 25 days, regarding bidding for construction and purchasing requirements.

Board members approved the implementation of the swipe-key-pad systems and cameras for all middle and high schools. Already installed for local elementary schools, the security measures were part of the original bids from an RFP previously conducted. Funding had already been set aside for the initiative, which will result in teachers and staff having swipe cards that will be tagged to individuals with preset access hours to school sites.

Board members were updated on various ITS projects, one of which will allow for upgraded wireless coverage for schools. By doing the work in-house with IT staff over the summer, significant money was saved on the projects. “We are ahead of the curve and did it with a smaller staff,” board member Ed Hatley said.

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