SANDOWN – Prompted by a suggestion from superintendent Earl Metzler, the Timberlane Regional School Board will be looking into whether the district’s drivers’ education program ought to be cancelled.
The Timberlane district covers Sandown, Atkinson, Plaistow and Danville.
According to information presented to the board at its April 3 meeting, the program has been losing money for years, to the tune of about $50,000 annually. It’s $35,000 in the red so far this year.
With financial pressures presented by a default budget, Metzler said a full audit is being done of all programs, and he was not comfortable with the losses that drivers’ education has been showing. And there’s no indication the trend will shift, he told the board, asking for input on where they’d like to go with the offering.
While Metzler said the program was useful for many families and was a convenience, “I don’t think we’re in a climate where we can run programs upside down.”
According to business administrator George Stokinger, the district charges $500 for the program, a fee $150 to $200 less than surrounding private companies offering the course.
But even if the program were to increase the fee, a suggestion made by some board members, it isn’t clear that would solve the deficit, according to Metzler. Some students receive financial support or scholarships from the district for the program and if the cost were to increase, the superintendent surmised that more students would need support.
School board member Peter Bealo suggested putting the program out to bid, letting private firms know that the school was ending its program. Bealo said if there were private companies offering the program, he was not comfortable running it from the school district.
Other members argued that the program offered a service to Timberlane families.
There are three part-time employees who instruct 10 sessions a year, with about 20 students per session. The program owns two cars.
To a question by member Donna Green of Sandown, it was noted that because the drivers’ education teachers are not certified by the Department of Education, but instead are certified by the Department of Safety, there would not be an opportunity to move them within the district and the positions would likely be terminated. The cars would be sold if no in-district use could be found for them, said Stokinger.
The board had many unanswered questions about the program and what options the district could pursue, and agreed to have the administration come back at a future meeting with more details.
Member Kelly Ward said he was uncomfortable with eliminating the program, as it was a boon to single parent families when a child could get a license and begin to help the family. “I certainly wouldn’t want to cut it completely,” said Ward.
In other school board news:
In an effort to bring lunch prices in line with the Free and Reduced lunch reimbursements that the district receives from the federal government, the board voted unanimously to increase the cost of lunches throughout the district. The federal government has recently been forcing districts to bring their food prices in line with the reimbursement amounts so that government aid is not subsidizing the rest of the meals.
The price suggestions were made by Whitsons Culinary Group, the firm that manages food service in the district.
Elementary lunches will go from $2.10 to $2.25, middle school lunches from $2.60 to $2.75, high school lunches from $2.85 to $3, and adult lunches from $3.60 to $3.75.
According to Metzler, the lunch program continues to show a deficit. The shortfall is about $60,000 this year, down from last year’s $100,000. Metzler said a more detailed accounting of the program can be expected in coming weeks.