-- Last Updated: Oct-31-12 2:01 PM EST --
check out www.meetup.com and see if there are paddling groups nearby. Sometimes just chatting with or joining beginner outings (asking first what gear or skills are needed) can give you the lay of the land on classes, gear and local safety issues. Some of these groups/clubs may join forces to get better rates on classes.
Especially if on a budget you may just have to wait for warm weather to come back for more beginner appropriate outings and classes.
btw, I think that lessons are better if you have the opportunity to go out with others soon after the lessons to practice what you learned. Otherwise you may need to retake the lessons months later if the cold keeps you in. So another reason you may want to wait out the winter.