District cuts driver’s ed in 2011-12The Hudson Board of Education approved a budget and resource reallocation plan that includes an end to in-school driver’s education in the 2011-12 school year.
By: Meg Heaton, Hudson Star-Observer
The Hudson Board of Education approved a budget and resource reallocation plan that includes an end to in-school driver’s education in the 2011-12 school year.
In a budget-cutting measure, the student cost to take driver’s ed. in 2010-11 will go from $200 to $300 which will save the district $37,500 next year. Cutting the program completely out of the budget the following year will save the district $96,000, which is the current net cost after the student fees.
Superintendent Mary Bowen-Eggebraaten said the administration was making the recommendation, along with the re-allocation of some teaching assignments and reduction of some operating costs, in an effort to offset cuts in state education aid. She also told the board that the district cannot count on any federal stimulus dollars for the upcoming year and that state budget projections could mean even further cuts in education aid.
The superintendent said that Hudson is one of the few districts in western Wisconsin that offers in-school driver’s education and that districts around us, including River Falls and New Richmond, have not offered the course to their students for many years.
The superintendent said the administration is looking into options that would provide the course, both classroom and “behind-the-wheel,” after school with no district subsidy. The administration reported that the cost of private driver’s education training ranges from $280-$390.
Director of Personnel Nancy Sweet stated that the decision would not affect the employment of long-time driver’s education Bob Branson who she expected would continue to teach in the district “for many years to come.”
Several people addressed the board during the discussion period voicing opposition to the recommendation. Jim Cooksey of Hudson asked for a “stay of execution” on the decision and asked the board to consider other options. He asked that the district consider the cost and enrollment in such classes as Mandarin Chinese, Beginning Chefs and Sports Marketing, before cutting driver’s education.
“Of all the things the school offers, both electives and compulsory, driver’s education provides a unique opportunity for students to be exposed to good decision-making and responsibility…Driving is going to be with us for a long time,” said Cooksey. He added, “That considering the actual cost to the district next year will be less than $50,000 with the new student fees in a budget of over $4 million, a program of this importance is worth some added consideration.”
HHS teacher and union representative Scott Ellingson also urged the board to postpone the decision. “Our kids and their parents are so busy these days that to add something else after school could be a hardship for a lot of them with jobs and other commitments. We have offered driver’s ed. for generations and driving will continue to be part of their lives. Getting kids ‘career-ready’ is a big part of what we do and learning to drive well is part of that.”
Hudson attorney Jamie Johnson has been one of several community lecturers in Branson’s classes and he too urged the board to retain the current program.
“Just because River Falls and New Richmond don’t offer it, doesn’t mean Hudson shouldn’t. The classroom experience is important. They learn the civil and criminal implications of unsafe driving and the consequences they can face.”
HHS student and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) also spoke in favor of the current program. “Mr. Branson reinforces safe driving practices and we want to thank him for his dedication to student safety.”
School board vice president Mark Kaisersatt was the only board member to argue against the recommendation to drop in-school driver’s education. He agreed that the skills taught in the class are consistent with the goals of HSD 2025, the district’s long-range plan. He said he believes the program as it stands is “a tremendous convenience to both parents and students who work. He added that while he respects the other options used by surrounding districts, he believes “Hudson’s is better and I hate to give up what we’ve got.”
Several other board members said that while they value the driver’s education program at HHS, they are charged with making difficult decisions in a tough economic climate.
Said board member Tom Holland, “This is not a judgment on the value of driver’s education. It is simply a question of what we need our students to focus on in their education. This is a different day than when we all went to school…We are here to point our kids into an area of study with high value…We must look at things objectively, make the tough decision but feel good about what we’ve done.
A motion by Kaisersatt to exempt driver’s ed. from the budget cuts failed and the board passed the recommendation as presented by the administration.