School board votes on driver ed contract
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 1, 2011 1:46 PM
A seemingly routine decision for the Wayne County Board of Education -- approving a renewal contract for driver education companies -- moved from a finance committee discussion Wednesday to a full called meeting of the school board Thursday, at which the chairman had to cast the tie-breaking vote.
The contract goes into effect today, said Nan Barwick, assistant superintendent for finance, prompting the meetings in advance of the regular board meeting scheduled for July 11.
Four bids were submitted for the annual contract, including two local companies with representatives currently employed as teachers in the school system. Bids from Quality Driving School and A+ Driving School were, respectively, $185 and $175 per student, which included classroom and driving instruction. The bid from A+, though, was specifically for two schools in the southern end of the county, Southern Wayne High and part of Spring Creek High.
"What possible advantage would it be for us to split part of Spring Creek and Southern Wayne?" asked finance committee member Arnold Flowers on Wednesday, pointing out the third option, North Carolina Driving School, whose bid was also at $175.
Fellow finance committee members Eddie Radford and Rick Pridgen said Quality and A+ had outstanding reputations and service records, as well as having certified teachers in the schools.
"I received a letter from Tony Moore (of N.C. Driving School) and he's offered to hire anybody in Wayne County," Flowers said.
Radford said that driver education money doesn't come out of the district budget, but rather comes "straight from DPI."
"What's DPI?" asked Flowers.
Mrs. Barwick explained that DPI is the state Department of Public Instruction, which regulates school systems, and the way funding for driver education works.
"It's money from the Highway Trust Fund, but it's allotted down to us," she said, noting that it cannot be transferred into other categories.
Flowers said he favored approving Moore's bid, making a motion to that effect.
For lack of a second, the discussion continued, but Radford later submitted his own motion -- to keep things status quo, approving bids from Quality and A+.
Again, the motion lacked a second and Pridgen, finance committee chairman, did not vote, resulting in Thursday morning's full board meeting.
At that meeting, two of the seven board members were absent -- Len Henderson and John Grantham.
Board member Chris West made a motion to accept Quality and A+ as providers, but indicated he also had a disclaimer. Radford seconded the motion, opening the floor for discussion.
West said he was aware of how things had been divided in the past, but suggested it might create some confusion for students at Spring Creek to have it split up.
"I made my motion under the assumption that that can be done, that A+ takes all of Spring Creek and Southern Wayne," he said. "Quality Driving School gets the remainder of the county."
Dr. Steven Taylor, schools superintendent, said it could be divided up any way the board chooses.
"Geographically, they're in the same location of the county," West said. "I don't understand. It's been done that way but I think it needs to be changed."
Pridgen said that having had time to consider it overnight, and in light of budget cuts and reduced allocations, he had concerns about future funding of the program.
So far, Radford said, the district had been fortunate in not having to charge students to take driver's ed. Were that to change, it would certainly complicate things, he said, especially for families unable to afford the service.
Flowers said he would go with the "collective wisdom of the board" but reiterated his support for N.C. Driving School, which offered to service every school in the county.
"It just seems to me that (for) A+ Driving to submit a bid just for Southern Wayne and a portion of Spring Creek, they're cherry-picking," he said. "That seems unfair to the people that are bidding. It seems like an unfair process.
"I could see where N.C. Driving School would feel that they have been treated unfairly. It smells to me. I'm going to go ahead and say what I need to say."
Flowers said he hesitated to make accusations, but hopes there is not any "good old boy back scratching."
West took issue with the insinuation, saying that he knew the two teachers affiliated with Quality and A+ driving schools and felt "very satisfied" with the reputations both programs had.
"And I might add this, I know Tony Moore, but Tony Moore didn't bother to send me a letter," he said.
Radford said he also had not received a letter, but Pridgen and Mrs. Smith indicated that they had.
"I don't feel like, I have been on this board for eight years, I have never had anybody mail me something to my house, trying to encourage me to make a decision," Pridgen said. "I feel like that was wrong to send it to some board members and not others on their behalf. But at the same time, I do realize that (Moore's) doing a very, very competitive business. ...
"I'm saying, give everybody equal opportunity to do that. But to me personally, I don't appreciate somebody mailing something to my house, trying to get me to do business with them."
"I disagree with that mindset," Flowers replied. "But the fact that I got the letter and more information, it wasn't like a presentation."
Pridgen said Flowers had "touted" the fact and made a "public display" of what was in his letter, which none of the other three bidders had an opportunity to submit.
Flowers said the point of his comments was to ensure that every potential bidder get a "fair shake," then called for a vote on the matter.
West and Radford voted in favor of Quality and A+. Flowers and Pridgen opposed, forcing Mrs. Smith to break the tie. She voted for Quality and A+.