BY MICHELLE MILLER
Supporters of the summer drivers’ education program at Cooperstown Central School came to voice their opinions at last week’s board of education meeting.
The program is one of several cuts proposed by the district in order to attempt to trim the 20010-2011 budget and burden on tax payers.
CCS currently offers a half-credit course of drivers’ training to students throughout the school year during the day. The program began in September of 2008 and includes classroom instruction, a chance to practice driving skills on simulators and behind the wheel training.
However, not everyone believes that option fits into every student’s schedule and believes it is important to continue the summer program.
Barbara Cannon, special education teacher at CCS, said her daughter could not take the driving program in school this year because of scheduling conflicts. Her only option is the summer program, said Cannon.
According to Cannon, many students have similar stories. She says students are giving up their lunch periods to fit training into their schedule. BOCES students also have a problem fitting in the day course, added Cannon.
Cannon said a few announcements were made over the PA at the High School informing students about summer education sign ups and as a result about 18 students have signed up. She said Superintendent Mary Jo McPhail denied a request to post an announcement to further get information out to parents on the district’s website.
According to Secondary Principal Michael Cring, letters were sent out with five-week notices to students in grades 10-12. He said the district started sign ups for the summer program about a month earlier this year in order to see how many students would still be interested in the offering and to accommodate fiscal issues. Cring said he thinks the district will see a reduction in the amount of students who will sign up for summer drivers’ education because training is being offered during the school year and class sizes are becoming smaller.
``It would become super saturated,’’ said Cring.
The typical class size for the summer program is about 24 students with a waiting list of about 15 to 20, according to Cring. He said the cost of the program is estimated at about $8,300, so if the district has 18 students who want to take the course each student would have to pay a $460 fee in order to get to a zero-based budget. Students have been paying $175 out of pocket to participate in the program.
Bob Satriano, fire captain of the Cooperstown Fire Department, said he is 100 percent behind keeping the summer education program. He says throughout the last few years New York State law has been trying to make young drivers safer by changing the drinking age from 18 to 21, making sure bars are closed during certain times in order to get a lot of alcohol out of the area, and instead of requiring more behind the wheel driving before a teen can obtain a license. Many schools have created Project Proms, added Satriano.
It has been proven drivers’ education saves lives and it makes no sense for CCS to cut the program, says Satriano, who has been a long-time emergency medical technician (30 years). Satriano says he has been that person that has had to put a teen’s body into a body bag and has been the person to have to cut off the prom dresses and tuxedos.
A positive result of being able to have cutting edge technology has come from a tragic loss of a student and son, Chris Gentile, and we cannot lose sight of the goals that came about because of that, said Cannon.
``The district wanted to give kids the skills to stay safe on the roads and I don’t think that has changed,’’ said Cannon.
Penney Gentile, whose son Chris was killed during his senior year in an automobile accident, has been instrumental in helping to improve drivers’ education for teenagers at the district. She said motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of teen deaths and the New York State Department of Education and the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles has declared this a public health crisis.
``I applaud Gov. Paterson for supporting the much needed legislative changes in Graduated Licensing (GLD) laws, which took effect in February,’’ said Gentile.
A minor must now hold a permit for six months and have a minimum of 50 hours of supervised driving, of which 15 hours must be after sunset, before a road test can be taken. Prior to the GDL law, a minor holding a permit could take a road test after 20 hours of supervised driving, which could occur a few weeks after receiving a permit.
``The changes, in addition to decreasing the number of non-family passengers under 21 allowed in the vehicle of a junior driver from two to one, strengthen the GDL laws, and provide for more training,’’ said Gentile. ``However, we still need more teen driver training and education to better prepare teen drivers to drive safely in adverse and diverse conditions.’’
Gentile said she had the honor to serve on the Temporary Special Advisory Panel on Driver Education Availability and Curriculum Enhancement, which consisted of members appointed by the governor and the Legislature and co-chaired by Commissioner Richard P. Mills of the New York State Education Department and Commissioner David J. Swarts, of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. Gentile said she supports both the findings that teen driver safety is a pubic health issue and the recommendations to make it an educational and safety priority.
Gentile said she would like to see The 21st Century Driver Training program continue at CCS after the state grant ($35,000 ) and other public and private funds run out at the end of next year. She said it will take some time and creativity on the part of the administration in helping secure these and other funds for that to happen. However, she said since the program’s implementation in schools throughout Georgia beginning in 2005, teen fatalities and crashes have gone down each year.
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