The state's third largest driving school unexpectedly closed last week, leaving students wondering how to get credit for their coursework and parents scrambling to get their money back.
Northwest Suburban Driving School, which has a main location in Crystal Lake and nine other branch locations across the northwest suburbs, shut its doors for financial reasons Friday without informing students or parents.
But according to Terry Montalbano, commercial driver's license administrator for the Secretary of State's office, the agency has a plan in place to refund money and enroll students who need to finish coursework or behind-the-wheel training into other driving schools.
The Secretary of State requires driving schools to put up a surety bond in case the school has to close for financial reasons or is closed by the state.
Northwest Suburban Driving School and owner Edward Pudlo Jr. had a $70,000 surety bond, Montalbano said, which will be used for parents to recoup money paid to the driving school for canceled lessons.
Montalbano said parents who have paid the full amount in cash, which the driving school set at $400, should contact the Secretary of State's Commercial Driver Training office at 847-981-7455.
Those who have paid by credit card are encouraged to contact their credit card companies and dispute the charges for the canceled lessons, which Pudlo will not dispute, Montalbano said.
Montalbano said the Secretary of State's office already has contacted five driving schools who have agreed to enroll students displaced from Northwest Suburban Driving School, and all schools will accept the hours students have earned. Schools also will honor contracts between Northwest Suburban Driving School and students regarding driving schedules and payment plans.
Those schools are Adams Driving School, Top Driver Driving School, Joyce's Driving School, All Four Wheels Driving School and Steer U Right.
“We hate when this happens, but we put enough things in place to take care of the children,” Montalbano said.
This is just the fourth driving school to close in the past 10 years, Montalbano said.
On the door of Northwest Suburban Driving School's Crystal Lake location, a five-day notice was posted Friday from the school's landlord, stating that Pudlo owed $2,021.25 for past-due rent. If the amount is not paid in full by Sept. 11, the property management company would file for eviction, property manager John Fuhler said.
“Overall [Pudlo's] been a good tenant for 18 years,” said Fuhler, who said he received a phone message from Pudlo over the weekend informing him that the school had closed. “It's a shame things ended so abruptly like this.”
Fuhler said Pudlo has been late on rent in the past, but would not say how frequently.
Attempts to reach Pudlo were unsuccessful Monday.
Among those caught off guard by the driving school's unexpected shuttering were staff members at Marian Central High School. The high school provides a room for the driving school to hold classes, and the school was set to begin coursework next week.
“I found out this morning at 8,” said Michelle Carlton, office receptionist. “We're scrambling to try and find another company.”
Carlton said the high school hopes to have another driving school in place by Friday.
“It's so sad, though, with the economy,” she said. “More and more companies seem to be doing that.”
Maureen Forgette was putting her fourth child through Northwest Suburban Driving school when the program unexpectedly closed. Her daughter was just two weeks from completing the class.
“I've always been satisfied with the service, but this is a little crazy,” Forgette said.