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District might put brakes on driver's education program

| Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011

In light of a proposed 7.5-mill property tax increase for the Greater Latrobe School District, school directors Tuesday decided to keep open their option to end the popular driver's education program.

The board's vote was not well received by the roughly 50 residents and students in attendance.

"Ending this program will have ramifications," said Tim Steel, a Pennsylvania State Police trooper and father of two children in the district. "I wouldn't hesitate to say almost every one of these students will apply for and receive a Pennsylvania driver's license. These young folks are going to drive to school, work, to prom. ... They will share the road with me and you and everyone else out there."

Board members made it clear that the vote does not effectively end the program, but gives them the option to do so. The program, once a requirement for graduation, is scheduled as a regular course that students take for a quarter of the school year. It includes on-road instruction from state-certified instructors.

Superintendent Judith Swigart said the board will wait until Gov. Tom Corbett gives his budget proposal March 8 to learn how much funding public schools will receive, then decide whether cutting the program and others is necessary to help offset the anticipated $2.5 million deficit.

District Business Manager Dan Watson said funding from the state is expected to decrease between $1.5 million and $2.2 million.

"We would need to make an application to the state for the curtailment of (driver's education). ... We can move on the resolution tonight but not send the letter to the state (unless necessary)," Swigart said. "All of me that is education would like to be able to not curtail the program, but as (Watson) said, there's going to be some difficult decisions to make, not just cutting driver's ed."

Lindsey Ferguson, a ninth-grader who is president of the junior high student council, was among a number of students who spoke before the vote.

"I do not know how much the course costs, but I do know how much it profits," Ferguson said.

"My mom graduated 30 years ago; the program taught her how to drive," said Alec Koluder, president of the high school student council. "This would just be a shame to cut out of the school district."

School directors emphasized that they did not want to cut the program but said all programs must be reviewed if residents want to avoid further tax increases. Watson said the board will consider eliminating an administrative position as well as reducing the hours of some support staff.

"The law does not allow us to furlough teacher positions unless we show a decline in enrollment, which we do not," Watson said. "We've been thinking outside of the box for over a year. ... Driver's education is not the only thing on the list that we will review for the next five months."

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