Driving a Wedge in Your Schedule

This article was written by journalism student Rheia Schall.

 

All public schools in the state of Vermont are required to provide Driver’s Ed for students. However, U-32 is only able to educate 72 kids a year in the program. At U-32 there is only one Driver’s Ed teacher, Matt Rackliff.

 

The state of Vermont has restrictions on how many students one Driver’s Ed teacher is allowed to teach in a year. Going over the maximum amount is considered an uncontrolled classroom. “Plus, the DMV does not like when you put [a lot] of kids through a Driver’s Ed program at once,” said Matt. 

 

Driver’s Ed Teacher, Matt Rackliff Rheia Schall/Chronicle

 

In Vermont, you are only allowed a certain number of hours in a classroom. Taking Driver’s Ed through a private teacher, on average, takes five to eight weeks. The school’s Driver’s Ed program takes a whole semester, because Vermont limits the number of hours students can be in a classroom for a week. 

 

To pass Driver’s Ed, a student will need to drive for 52 hours by the end of the year in order to take the license test. With these restrictions from Vermont, it is hard to put more than 72 kids through Driver’s Ed a year without another teacher. 

 

Matt originally started working for U-32 as a paraprofessional, but with the lack of Driver’s Ed teachers in Vermont, was hired to be what is now the only Driver’s Ed teacher at U-32. “There’s a shortage of Driver’s Ed teachers in the state. We had two applicants when we hired Matt,” said Steven Dellinger-Pate, the principal of U-32. 

 

Finding a Driver’s Ed teacher was difficult. Before Matt became the Driver’s Ed teacher, the school did not have one.. U-32 had to provide vouchers for students locally to take Driver’s Ed during the school year. There were a couple problems with this system: Many students couldn’t make it to the Driver’s Ed locations and for the school, providing vouchers was a lot more expensive than just hiring a Driver’s Ed teacher. 

 

U-32 student vans Rheia Schall/Chronicle

 

U-32 has seen declining enrollment in the last couple of years. Right now, U-32 has 730 kids in the building, but in the next four years, it is predicted that the numbers will drop to around 600 kids. In the local elementary schools that feed into U-32, none of the grades have more than 95 students. With these dropping numbers, many kids would be able to get into Driver’s Ed sophomore year, when most kids turn 15. 

 

Right now and in the next couple of years, only half the students who apply to Driver’s Ed will be able to get in. U-32 chooses who is accepted by their date of birth. Many students who have birthdays in the first half of the year have a breeze being able to get into Driver’s Ed. “My birthday [is in December] so it was really easy for me to get in,” said Addie Croteau, a sophomore at U-32 who was able to take Driver’s Ed first semester. 

 

Everyone else who wasn’t in the first 72 students had to be waitlisted for the year or hold out until next year. “I turned 15 late, I wouldn’t have been able to get into Driver’s Ed in the beginning of the year,” said Carl Wendel, a senior at U-32 who took Driver’s Ed in his junior year through the school. Carl wasn’t able to get into Driver’s Ed sophomore year because of the limited space for students. 

 

It is a common occurrence for kids to take Driver’s Ed privately. “I have a late birthday. I wouldn’t have been able to get in through the school,” said Nashay Stephani, a senior at U-32 who had to take Driver’s Ed privately in sophomore year.

 

Many students at U-32 aren’t able to take private Driver’s Ed  because of cost, or because they have work and sports to do. “I don’t have time [to take it privately], I have work and swim,” said Abbie Dodge, a sophomore at U-32. “[Some kids] can’t afford to take it private and have to wait. How is that fair to them?” said Nashay.

 

U-32’s parking lot for student and teacher drivers Rheia Schall/Chronicle

 

Another common issue with the Driver’s Ed system is that kids who go to the Barre Tech Center are only able to take Driver’s Ed in band seven or eight when they get back to U-32. If Driver’s Ed is not offered then, they have to find another way to take the class, which normally results in them taking it privately. 

 

Money is the reason why U-32 cannot allow for more than 72 kids to be enrolled in Driver’s Ed. In the U-32 budget, there are 8 million dollars set aside to pay for teachers and staff at U-32. “On average, each teacher costs about $90,000 to $100,000 with their salary and benefits,” said Steven. That number is before any taxes.

 

 The U-32 budget increased from $31 million to $34 million since last year. With this new increased budget, U-32  still had to cut some positions across the district. “ We’re in a position where we cannot add to our budget,” said Steven, “We don’t have the money or the people to be able to [get another Driver’s Ed teacher].”

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