MANCHESTER — The school district is set to hike the cost of its driver’s education course by nearly 10 percent to $575 amid continuing concerns about the viability of the program.
The Board of School Committee approved the tuition increase earlier this week as part of changes designed to generate more revenue and reduce the costs of the program. Driver’s education has been running at a deficit for the last several years, resulting in a cumulative deficit of approximately $180,000.
The new tuition rate would apply to students beginning the course in the fall. The cost had been $525.
Most districts in New Hampshire have had to raise tuition for driver’s ed after the state pulled subsidies for the programs in 2011. Many districts have dropped their programs altogether, with parents increasingly turning to private driving schools.
At Monday’s school board meeting, Mayor Ted Gatsas was critical of raising the tuition for the program, given the ongoing fiscal problems. He called into question the solvency of the program.
But a majority of board members voted to support the increase and other programs changes, while calling for additional review of its finances.
After the vote, Gatsas insisted the director of the driver’s education program, Mike Dubisz, appear at the next school board meeting at the end of the month.
“So he can tell us where the financial stability is, so we can get a motion to reconsider and start going in the right direction,” Gatsas said.
The financial challenges facing the program have been under review for several months by the board’s Finance Committee, which is headed by Ward 5 board member Ted Rokas.
“I hear your frustration,” Rokas said. “But we pay an individual to be director of the driver’s ed program. This is not just something we came up with today. You have to give this a chance, to come out of this hole.”
Among the other proposed changes are reducing the director’s hours to 11 a week and having him devote more time to instruction.
Rokas said the changes are projected to result in a $32,000 surplus at the end of the current budget year.
At $575, Manchester’s tuition would be on par with other district programs and private driving school schools. Two private schools in Manchester also charge $575, while the most expensive in the city costs $680, according to information provided by Dubisz.
Only one of the high schools listed by Dubisz has a rate below $575 — Souhegan, which charges $525.
A couple of board members raised the possibility of “privatizing” the driver’s education program, much as the district has its custodial services.
At-large board member Dave Wihby said he was doubtful a tuition hike would solve the program’s woes.
“I don’t think we’re going to fix this by adding $50 a person,” he said. “I don’t know if privatizing is the answer, but something is wrong,” he said.
The number of students enrolled in the district’s program this past school year was 484, a decline from last year but not as dramatic as in the previous years. There were 613 students in 2011, when the state-subsidized tuition was $325.
The program has 10 driving teachers, who are paid $25 an hour.