Even in the face of a tightening school budget, Board of Education members are reluctant to end the county's 39-year history of preparingyoung drivers to take to the road.
During a day-long school boardmeeting yesterday, only board members Jo Ann Tollenger and Thomas Twombly supported dismissing the free half-credit course which providesclassroom instruction, simulation and driving lessons at an annual cost of $900,000.
"We can't be all things to all people," Tollenger said. "The question is where in the budget we put our resources. While it's painful to do it, I would support a recommendation to cut driver's education.I keep looking at our resources and a limited number of dollars -- Iwant to put the money back in the classroom."
Twombly added, "I'll make that tough decision, and they'll have to go elsewhere and get that type of service."
Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Cheryl Wilhoyte presented the board with four options: contract out thebehind-the-wheel portion of the course, offer the program after school and during the summer, maintain the program as it is or drop it.
The program has about 3,200 registered students. The issue will probably come up for a vote next month.
"We will have difficult choices," Wilhoyte said, noting that private companies offer drivers education.
Under state law, anyone under 18 must pass drivers educationbefore obtaining a driver's license.
Board member Patricia Huecker questioned projected savings of $556,589 by eliminating the 12.5 driver's education teaching positions.
"I don't believe they fairly represent the costs," Huecker said. "They (teachers) will still be inschool teaching some course. It's not a duplication of service; students can take typing, cooking or keyboarding in the private sector too, but we do a better job."
Board members Dorothy Chaney, Kenneth McGill and president Nancy Gist agreed that the driving classes are invaluable.
"I have four children and they all went through the course," Chaney said. "If I want to save money, a better idea would be to see what courses students are not taking."
Annapolis High drivers' education teacher Richard King said the prolonged debate on whether the course should continue creates a hardship for teachers. For thelast 16 years, he has helped students to master the roadway, but he told board members that he is frustrated with the lack of commitment from school officials.
"It's been tough on me," King said. "Every couple of years someone is threatening my job. I had a minor stroke over the stress.
"No one has ever said we don't do a good job. It'salways the money."
Ironically, part of the reason given for dropping driver's education was the dwindling supply of teachers certifiedto do the job.
Wilhoyte said Baltimore County offers a non-creditdriver's education course after school, at a cost of $78. Howard County dropped its program four years ago.
Anne Arundel County began offering the course in 1952 at Southern and Annapolis high schools, expanding to other high schools in 1970. The school system leases 26 cars at a cost of $89,769.
The board last considered dropping driver's education in 1982, at the recommendation of then-Superintendent Edward J. Anderson. The idea was dropped, however, after several boardmembers took issue with the proposal.