School district will cut driver’s education

Despite pleas from the high school’s Traffic Safety Education teachers to keep the program alive, the South Kitsap School Board voted unanimously Monday night to cut driver’s training classes for the 2003-04 school year.

The board resisted cutting the program last month, tabling the resolution after a lengthy discussion and asking the district to present more options than either eliminating or prohibitively raising fees for the financially struggling program that currently costs the district nearly $40,000 to run.

“The problem is, the state is not funding this anymore,” Superintendent Beverly Cheney said.

Several board members expressed regret while casting their vote for elimination, including board member Jim Huff, who said he hoped the move would prompt calls to the state legislators about inadequate school funding.

“I’m really angry about this,” he said. “As the government systematically hacks away at education and we keep robbing Peter to pay Paul, pressure never gets put on the state. If we cut this program, parents will call us and we can direct them to who the bad guy is — Bob Oke, Lois McMahan and Patricia Lantz.

“Hopefully,” Huff said, “this time they will realize that these cuts are affecting people.”

Driver’s ed has been losing money since the 2001-02 school year, when the state cut funding for the program. Prior to that year, the driver’s ed was self-supporting with a cost of $160 per student, and $94 for low-income students.

This year, the district raised the regular student tuition to $285, and the low-income to $100, Wenzel said.

With the raised fees, student participation dropped dramatically, as at least two local private competitors charge only $235 for driving classes.

At the meeting Monday night, the district presented three pricing structures, all that would place tuition costs per student significantly higher than local competitors. Teacher Mary Pugh presented her own option for a self-supporting program with nearly competitive tuition that cut costs by using lower-salaried staff.

“I know we’re having trouble with the money, but I hope we can continue with the program,” Pugh said. “I hope everyone realizes how important it is to us as a community to offer a quality program that produces safe, well-instructed drivers.”

Board members Chris Lemke and Keith Garton pointed out that cutting the program was a tough-but-prudent choice, given that there will be more cuts to come once the new state budget is released.

“I have a son who’s not going to be able to take the program next year, but we don’t know how hard the axe is going to fall,” Garton said. “There is a possibility of resurrecting the program if parents call the legislators.”

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