Driver Education Courses Run Out of Gas

September 27, 2013
by S. Aaron Shamshoyan

School offered driver education courses have long been a staple for many of Salem’s young drivers but students who complete the course next March will be the last.

School board members unanimously voted last week to discontinue the courses citing increasing challenges to offer the program and the lack of a program director.

The change is possible since the state removed a provision requiring high schools to offer the courses in 2007 and since then, certified driving teachers have declined for the district.

Superintendent Michael Delahanty said when a program director was present, there was little issue with offering the program, but since their departure, responsibilities have fallen to driving instructors and the high school principal.

“It was a seamless operation,” Delahanty said.  “Since 2007, we have not been required to have a driver education program.”  Only two high school teachers remain as instructors for the program and carry the responsibilities of the director.  They notified administration they did not plan to renew their certification next year.

“Because this is not a required program, I think it’s time to drop the program,” Delahanty told board members.

For years the high school offered discounted rates for the program, made possible by grants for each student who completed the course.  Increased costs would no longer give the school a competitive advantage over private driving schools.

Delahanty said Timberlane Regional School District continues to offer driver education but Pinkerton Academy in Derry provides students with a list of registered private programs in the area.

High School Principal Tracy Collyer said the limited staff for the program makes it challenging to operate.  “We’re having trouble maintaining good instructors.”

Demand for the school’s driver education program has declined.  “At one time, there was more demand then we can service,” Delahanty said.  “The demand for the program isn’t as high as it once was.”

Board member Michael Carney agreed with the proposal, citing increased costs as a reason for its dismemberment.

Member Bernie Campbell questioned if private programs would be able to manage the influx of students if the school doesn’t offer classes.  He suggested a commercial program could utilize classroom space to allow for convenience for students.

The board voted unanimously to discontinue the service after completion of a March class.  Delahanty said the district leases Toyota Corollas from Rockingham Toyota and that the contract could be terminated without penalty.