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Driver's ed class reaches the end of the road

The South Kitsap School Board quietly eliminated the high school’s Traffic Safety Education program Monday night, halting for the foreseeable future the driver’s training classes teachers urged the district to keep offering to sophomores.

But while last year board members resisted cutting the program — which the district said was bleeding nearly $40,000 from its budget — and driver’s ed instructors fought to save the program, this year there was little discussion and no outcry.

“We have to recognize the reality of the situation,” said board member Jim Huff, referring to the fact that the program has been losing money since the 2001-02 school year, when the state cut its funding for the program.

Prior to that year, the program was self-supporting with a cost of $160 per student, and $94 for low-income students.

The district was forced to raise fees significantly the following year — $285 for regular, $100 for low-income — and consequently student participation dropped dramatically.

To make the program self-supporting, the district said, student fees would have to be more than $400, which would likely prohibit the necessary student participation, as at least two local private competitors at the time charged only $235 for driving classes.

Several board members expressed regret while casting their vote for elimination last year, 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; as the government systematically hacks away at education and we keep robbing Peter to pay Paul, pressure never gets put on the state,” Huff said. “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, this time they will realize that these cuts are affecting people.”

But Frank Sullivan, the district’s director of school administration and student services, said neither the district nor the high school had received any complaints or negative feedback from parents or other community members after stopping the program.

“We haven’t heard anything — and I get all the phone calls,” Sullivan said, adding that SKHS Principal David Colombini did not report receiving any complaints, either.

Sullivan said most of the nearby school districts, with the exception of North Kitsap, have also eliminated their driver’s ed programs.

He said the district vehicles previously designated for driver’s training classes have already been reassigned to other areas, and that other equipment, including several large driving simulators, will be made surplus.

Sullivan said should the program be revived, not having the simulators will not pose a significant obstacle to re-offering classes.

“They were 20-years-old, and needed to be replaced anyway,” he said.

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