Reluctant to drop driver education without an idea of what recourse students will have, the Carroll County school board voted yesterday to table a decision until May.
Board members Ann M. Ballard and Joseph D. Mish said they were concerned about students who would not be able to afford to pay the more than $200 that private firms generally charge to teach someone to drive.
School officials propose letting a private firm offer driving courses after school hours and in the summer. The private firms could use school space for classrooms.
Driver education now costs students $65 through the school system.
County Commissioner President Donald I. Dell said he would consider having the county provide a subsidy for students who couldn't afford private driving classes, should the schools stop offering it.
However, he said he couldn't commit any money yet.
"I think young people really need some training, with traffic the way it is," Mr. Dell said.
Superintendent R. Edward Shilling said he would come back to the board in May with proposals for how the program could be offered after school, either taught by Board of Education employees or contracted out to private firms.
Board President Carolyn L. Scott agreed with a parent, Laurel Penn, that the schools should investigate how well private firms have been teaching students to drive.
Mrs. Penn, of New Windsor, attended the meeting to ask the board to keep driver education within the public schools.
"That's where I would like my child to learn how to drive," she said. "What's the driving record of teens in other counties that dropped it?"
She said she was sure more parents agreed with her, but have trouble taking time off from work to come to a daytime meeting, or are intimidated about writing a letter.
Westminster High School health teacher Edna McNemar, who has taught driver education in other years, strongly defended keeping it as part of the school day.
Also, Katherine Kelly, a Westminster High School senior and student representative to the board, defended the program. Her vote in May, however, won't count.
High school principals initiated the request to drop driver education.
Although the measure would save money, the principals' primary reason was to free up teachers and space to accommodate the growing enrollment coming through the middle schools now, said Peter B. McDowell, director of secondary education.
He said driver education takes twice as many teachers and rooms now as any other class.
"We're not really strong in pupil-teacher ratio," Mr. McDowell said. "So in essence we were saying driver education is more important than English, math and science."
Board member John D. Myers voted against tabling the decision, and said he believed the schools would have to sacrifice driver education.
"I agree young people need this," he said. "My concern is the costs will escalate."
Superintendent R. Edward Shilling said Mr. Myers was right -- the system has to make some tough decisions in the coming years to drop marginal programs.
"This is the first of many decisions the board is going to have about what are the priorities," Mr. Shilling said. "This is not about whether driver education is worthwhile or not worthwhile. I sat here last year and defended not cutting driver education."