Maine Township High School Dist. 207’s decision to outsource driver’s education barely caused a ripple on Monday (April 19) as the board of education voted unanimously to approve a contract with Lombard-based Top Driver driving school.
The district has argued that outsourcing will allow it to save money without compromising the quality of instruction. Because gym teachers have traditionally doubled as driver’s ed teachers, the outsourcing will allow them to teach more, reducing class sizes, officials say.
Illinois High School & College Driver Education Association (IHSCDEA) previously expressed concerns about the proposal, arguing that outsourcing would hurt the quality of instruction and that the district was overestimating how much money it would save. No public comments were submitted for Monday’s public hearing and special board meeting. While some board members quizzed staff on financial numbers and safety issues, none opposed the outsourcing.
According to a Feb. 23 memo to the Dist. 207 Board of Education, the district was originally planning the shift in the 2023-2024 school year, but two factors pushed it to consider outsourcing sooner. Due to COVID-19, sports seasons were shifted into summer. Since most of the driver’s ed instructors are also coaches, it would be nearly impossible for the district to offer driver’s ed until fall 2021. If it kept driver’s education in-house, it would need to replace driving simulators, which the district estimates will cost $450,000, as well as replace five out of six student driver vehicles, which it estimates will cost $90,000. The district will also be able to save on insurance for said vehicles.
The district’s driver’s ed fee is $350 per student, but students who qualify for free or reduced lunches don’t have to pay the fee. The state reimburses the district $192.45 per student. The district estimates that 513 students will enroll during the 2021-2022 school year, and it estimates that driver’s education would cost $255,987.
Under the contract with Top Driver, the district will be paying $499 per student, which is more than a student fee and a reimbursement per student. Shawn Messmer, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and innovation, told the board that the district would still be able to save money by not filling two vacancies that will be created when two coaches retire. Since the remaining coaches wouldn’t have to teach driver’s ed anymore, they would not only be able to cover all classes, but reduce class sizes.
Messmer said that the district got good references from Township High School Dist. 211, which outsourced its driver’s education to Top Driver around three years earlier.
“That [experience], to be honest, was an appealing part of going with [Top Driver] because they were very familiar with the scheduling process,” he said.
In response to concerns about the instructors’ qualifications, Messmer said that the district will evaluate them and that the instructors have to meet the same state requirements as current driver’s ed teachers.
“They’d need to hold exact same credentials as our teachers hold, which is a pretty high bar,” he said.
Board member Jin Lee wondered about what would happen if anything goes wrong. Messmer pointed to the fact that the contract requires the company to carry several insurance policies, which Top Driver will have to pay for out of its own pocket. Top Driver is also required to pay for any damage to the district property.
“If there are any issues, they’re covered under vendor agreement and insurance,” Messmer said.
Following the vote, IHSCDEA President Brett Johnston said while his organization didn’t doubt that the Top Driver instructors would be properly certified, they were worried that they didn’t have the experience driver’s ed teachers had.
“We have a lot of concerns with the quality of instructors that the Top Driver is going to be hiring, or if they’re going to just hire anyone with the certification, regardless of their ability to teach, just to fulfill the contract,” he said. “The best teachers, regardless of discipline, are already in public schools. So Top Driver is basically going to get leftovers.”
Johnston also argued that, given that the district would no longer be maintaining cars and simulators, the fees should be “lowered or eliminated.” And, he argued, that outsourcing classroom activities is a slippery slope.
“If they do it to driver’s ed, they can certainly do it in art, music and other electives,” Johnston said.
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