A school district budget crunch will end a local DARE program, but Pickerington police plan to offer alternative drug education this summer.

A school district budget crunch will end a local DARE program, but Pickerington police plan to offer alternative drug education this summer.

Included among $13-million in cuts recently announced by the Pickerington Local School District was the elimination of DARE for the 2011-12 school year.

The program, which seeks to steer PLSD fifth-graders toward good decisions and away from alcohol, drugs, tobacco and gangs, has been a fixture in the community due to an at least 20-year partnership between the district and the Pickerington Police Department.

But while PLSD Board of Education members and administrators say they no longer can afford the program in its traditional form, Pickerington police plan to keep the DARE message alive through a series of forums for students and parents.

"It would be an evening-type situation or on the weekend," Pickerington Police Chief Mike Taylor said. "Our goal would be to have something like every quarter, to come up with a couple-hour program."

Pickerington Police Cmdr. Matt Delp said the department will host five to six, two-hour sessions for middle school-aged children this summer to warn of the dangers associated with alcohol, drugs, tobacco and gangs.

Additionally, a similar number of sessions will be offered to local parents to teach them more about substance abuse and other dangerous activities, as well as warning signals they should look out for in their children's behavior.

"This summer we're going to try to run some programs through the (Pickerington) Parks and Recreation Department," Delp said. "It will be DARE curriculum kind of condensed into a seminar forum."

Last year, 900 PLSD fifth-graders graduated from the DARE program, which has been provided during school hours and facilitated by a Pickerington police officer.

The PLSD Board of Education cut the program for 2011-12 based on a recommendation from the administration, which has reduced or eliminated about 100 positions including 87 teachers to balance the 2011-12 budget. The move is expected to save the district $26,000 next school year.

Board President Lisa Reade said each of the cuts has been difficult, but the district, by law, must balance its budget. She added drug education will continue to be provided through other avenues, such as instruction in health classes.

"There are a lot of programs we've eliminated that I have mixed emotions about," she said. "I don't think the district has lost our commitment to educate our students about the dangers of drugs. We're just not doing it in conjunction with the Pickerington Police Department."

The move also will cost the police department the vast majority of a $27,000 drug-education grant, which was used to offset the salary of one police officer.

Delp said by offering the summer sessions, the department expects to retain a fraction of the grant funding possibly $5,000 or $6,000 and the rest of the officer's salary will be absorbed by the department's general budget.

He said the summer sessions will be open and free to the public.

"This is kind of a trial," he said. "We'll see what the response is and maybe we'll expand it.

"Obviously, we're not going to reach 1,000 kids in those five or six sessions, but we'll reach as many as we can and the parent class, I think, will be just as important."

Pickerington residents will receive more information about the sessions next month, when the city's parks and recreation brochure is mailed.

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