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COVID cancels summer driver’s ed, HFHS lacks cars

Many teens in Homewood and Flossmoor anxious to get their driver’s licenses will be waiting a bit longer. Due to COVID-19, Homewood-Flossmoor High School won’t offer its driver’s education program this summer.

For H-F administrators, that’s good and bad news. Good that it gives the district a bit more time to find the cars for the class. Bad in that it’s going to cost more.

The Illinois State Board of Education says high school districts must make driver’s ed available to all students. It reimburses districts for the cost of the cars, in addition to related maintenance and insurance. ISBE does not reimburse for instructor salaries.

For several years, H-F has leased cars – two during the school year and eight during the summer – through a successful special leasing program offered by General Motors.

H-F has about 100 students in driver’s ed classes during the school year, but eight cars were needed in summer when 250 students learned driving in double shifts – 6 a.m. to noon, and noon to 6 p.m. Students need 30 hours of class instruction plus six hours of behind-the-wheel experience to pass the class. 

The program is also open to students living in the district but attending private schools.

H-F Business Manager Lawrence Cook told members of the H-F Finance Committee that GM’s $6,100 annual program has ended, but Chevrolet of Homewood continued the offer for H-F this school year.

At the committee’s May 5 meeting, Cook gave several options, but none will offer the district the same ratio of 2 and 8.

Most high school districts in the area buy cars. Cook’s suggestions include leasing four cars for 36 months at about $17,000 a year, or purchasing four cars at $80,000 over four years. Cook said typically schools use a purchase plan but they turn the cars in after two or three years, so that $80,000 isn’t a true cost.

ISBE will reimburse the car purchases using a five-year period. Leased car costs will be based on the year the lease is signed.

Whatever the board chooses to do, it will cause a substantial cost increase to the district.

Member Beth Larocca said while it might not be a good time to discuss fee increases, H-F effectively subsidizes the driver’s ed program with its low cost. H-F now charges $175, which includes $75 for the classroom portion and $100 for behind-the-wheel instruction. 

“I think we’ve got to raise driver’s ed fees,” Larocca said. “We lose money running summer school, but we lose even more money running driver’s education in the summer.”

She said some parents parents pay $300 or more for their child’s driver’s ed sessions at private driving schools.

Cook said the district could raise the fee, but that change would come with its own procedural steps and would require final approval from ISBE.

“We’ve always tried to run the program because our taxpayers are already paying enough taxes,” said Superintendent Von Mansfield. “This is one of the benefits that they’re getting — driver’s ed. This is one of the places those tax dollars go.”

Board member Gerald Pauling said the group must take a realistic view of what raising fees would mean to parents.

“Let’s not be naïve about the blowback we’re going to get with raising fees, particularly now,” Pauling said. 

Finance Committee Chair Steve Anderson said the board ought to analyze all the options and make the best decision. 

Larocca agreed, and wondered aloud whether H-F could make driver’s ed a night class. Mansfield said that would be difficult to accommodate for students involved in after-school activities.

“Our kids are already stretched in participating in sports. If we start offering it at night, you’re taking an hour to two out of a kid’s schedule,” Mansfield said. “Also, mathematically it creates a logjam on how many hours you’re going to need (for driver’s ed) during the course of a year. Now you’re talking about our teachers working at 7 and 8 at night. That’s not a good formula.”

Another option is turning over the driver’s ed program to be run by a private company.

The Finance Committee asked Cook to study the options and provide additional information so they could make decisions on how to proceed with the driver’s ed program.

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