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Schools to stop driver training

The driver's education program in Hernando County schools is being eliminated to allow students more time for academic subjects.

By ROBERT KING

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 14, 2001


BROOKSVILLE -- The School Board agreed Tuesday to eliminate driver's education courses in an effort to push high school kids into other electives that are more academically challenging.

The board must still take a formal vote to kill the program. But at a workshop Tuesday, three of its five members -- Gail Coleman, Sandra Nicholson and Jim Malcolm -- said driver's education has no place in the regular academic day.

Board member Robert Wiggins said he would join their majority unless someone could show him proof that driver's education saves lives. John Druzbick supports keeping driver's education.

As a whole, the board left open the possibility that driver's education could survive in an after-school, non-credit program. But to take it, students might have to pay $25 an hour.

Already, the board's move has drawn criticism.

Lucille Chrisafulle, who founded the county's Mothers Against Drunk Drivers chapter 16 years ago and led it until the group dissolved last year, thinks cutting driver's education is a bad idea.

"I think that's foolish," she said. "I think it's going to cost some lives."

Driver's education -- which includes classroom work and road practice -- is offered at all three county high schools. Drawing more than 1,000 students, it is one of the county's more popular elective courses.

For one thing, students who complete the one-semester class can save $25 on fees at the Department of Motor Vehicles on their way to getting their licenses. And depending on their company and their policy, they also might get a break on auto insurance rates.

Springstead High sophomore Staci Hawkins takes the class this semester for two reasons: It's easy and it should help her become a good driver.

"It's very useful," she said. "It helps us out with driving because we go driving once a week."

Her mother, Kellie Hawkins, said MetLife would allow Staci a driver's education discount once she completes the class. But she won't take it. There is a steeper break to be had for having a high grade point average. And their policy won't allow two price breaks.

As elective classes go, driver's education is relatively expensive for the school district.

Staffing alone costs $189,000. Each class requires a teacher who does all the road training and an aide to supervise students who remain behind.

That excludes the costs of providing and maintaining the cars -- a sum that district officials didn't have available Tuesday.

Yet, eliminating the program might not save much money.

The three driver's education teachers -- Vernon Turner of Central, Scott Borgeson of Hernando and Vic Cervizzi of Springstead -- will not being fired.

They would be reassigned to other teaching jobs, most likely in physical education. Because they are veterans, other physical education teachers with less experience will likely be forced into academic subject areas.

The school district will also continue using the driver's education fleet -- minivans -- to transport students to various activities, such as golf matches or ROTC drill team events.

But officials say the expense of driver's education is not the problem.

Malcolm, the board chairman, said driver's education is a class that frequently draws criticism from folks who compare it to underwater basket weaving.

Barney Stratton, the district's assistant superintendent for secondary schools, said the time spent on driver's education could be better spent elsewhere.

High school students need 24 course credits to graduate. Most are required subjects such as English, math, science and foreign languages. Such restrictions mean students -- and schools -- must choose electives carefully.

With driver's education out of the way, students might have more opportunities to take classes such as journalism, speech/debate, music theory, world geography, literature and oceanography.

Druzbick said another academic course may not be what kids need. Maybe they need a break now and then. "We are putting their backs against the wall," he said.

Other area school districts -- Citrus, Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas -- still offer driver's education during the school day, according to information Hernando officials presented Tuesday.

The demise of driver's education would follow the board's decision two years ago to eliminate its DUI/Driver Improvement program, a $200,000 program that had existed for 25 years. It was a fee-based operation that offered training courses for beginners, points-reduction classes for drivers with tickets and court-ordered supervision for convicted drunken drivers.

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