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Levittown Board of Ed Votes to Raise Fees

School Lunches, Drivers Ed Affected

Levittown families will have to dig a little deeper in their pockets this fall if they want their kids to buy lunch or participate in the district’s driver education program.

At the last public special meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 25 at the Levittown Memorial Education Center, the board members voted to increase fees on both programs. In-district driver education will increase from $510 to $550 for the fall 2010 and spring 2011 semesters while school lunch prices will increase 10 cents for both K-5 and 6-12. The new school lunch prices will be $2.10 and $2.35, respectively.

Both fee increases were met with a tepid response from the 25 community members in attendance. Parent, Tom Coleman, opposed the increase in driver education saying, “It is not fair to ask families to shoulder any increase in the program.” He also objected to the higher fee that was being used to subsidize the program for families who receive financial assistance from the district.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Herman Sirois agreed with Coleman, asking the board if it was fair that other driver education students were bearing the costs for those students who cannot afford the full fee of the program.

“Many families don’t realize they’re paying for other families to take the driver education program,” said Coleman. “It’s not really fair.”

“State law says that the district can’t exclude any student from the driver education program based on financial hardship,” said Debbie Rifkin, assistant superintendent for instruction. “The new $550 fee should make the program self-sufficient.”

Previously, it was revealed that the district’s 2009 driver education program had lost nearly $15,000.

According to Rifkin, students with financial hardships can get the driver education program discounted according to their eligibility for both reduced-fee and free lunch. Students who receive reduced-fee lunch can get the driver program at a one-third discount and students who receive free lunch get the driver program at a discount of two-thirds off.

Sirois added that the increased fee for the driver program came down to the ultimate decision to either offer or not offer the program at all within the district.

Trustee James Ward told the board that he had done some research on other districts’ driver education programs and that some districts were charging substantially less for their driver programs. Ward noted that Wantagh charges $425 for in-district driver education and $465 for out-of-district programs.

Ward explained that Wantagh contracted the program out to the East Meadow Driving School and that could be a reason why they are able to charge less.

“I think if we take a hard look at our program and eliminate some fat, maybe we won’t have to increase the fee after all,” said Ward.

Ward also pointed out that some of Wantagh’s savings might be due to the fact that Levittown pays its driving instructors according to a negotiated teacher contract, while East Meadow Driving School wages are likely lower than Levittown’s teacher contract wages.

The increased fees for school lunches were acknowledged as necessary to both keep pace with rising food prices and to allow for long overdue refurbishing of district cafeterias. “The cafeterias are 50 to 60 years old and we need to have this refurbishing done,” said board member Michael Pappas. “We have to increase the lunch prices to ensure that we can cover the costs of refurbishing.”

Board member Ed Powers reiterated that the district serves between 700,000 to 800,000 lunches per year.

The next public general board meeting will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 15 at 7:30 p.m. in the Levittown Memorial Education Center at 150 Abbey Lane in Levittown.