State hits local agriculture programs

GILROY
– After Nov. 4, things will be a lot different for local Future
Farmers of America students looking to expand their learning
opportunities outside of Gilroy.
GILROY – After Nov. 4, things will be a lot different for local Future Farmers of America students looking to expand their learning opportunities outside of Gilroy.

That pre-election day date is when directors of Regional Agricultural Education offices around the state have to report to Delaine Eastin, California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. It’s a move that will pull 12 ag education consultants away from directing and promoting regional and statewide FFA activities and focus them on other California Department of Education duties.

It’s a move Eastin has billed as necessary due to budget shortfalls. Ag educators are blasting it as the first step in the dismantling of the FFA program, and the California Agricultural Teachers Association is considering legal action against the state which could stop the move.

“The bottom line is that we simply no longer have sufficient numbers of staff to carry out the many legislated requirements of the California Department of Education,” Eastin said in a written statement. “With the current budget shortfall, we will be losing 100 positions this year.”

CATA’s Executive Director Jim Aschwanden says the state is on shaky legal ground because funding for regional ag education offices comes entirely from federal Carl D. Perkins monies.

“They’re really ripping off federal funds,” Aschwanden said. “We have to decide in the next couple of weeks whether to seek an injunction from a judge. So far, we’re excited about some of the things we’ve uncovered.”

FFA is a national organization that works with individual schools to set up agricultural science curricula in the classroom. In addition, the FFA coordinates conferences and competitions on regional and statewide levels that hone the skills of ag students and provide valuable experience in farming, record keeping and leadership, among other things. Its mission involves character development, community involvement and awareness of the importance of agriculture in society.

The local FFA chapter has grown in recent years, said David Duarte, Gilroy High’s ag science department head and FFA advisor.

GHS has more than 200 students involved in FFA curriculum and extracurricular activities. There are three teachers in the ag science program at Gilroy High. Students attend roughly 50 FFA activities a year, Duarte said.

On Thursday, Gilroy High School agricultural science students will compete in a contest to show how well they run their monthly FFA meetings. Last weekend, those same students attended a conference in Lompoc where they learned leadership strategies and fund-raising tactics.

But after Nov. 4, “About the only thing left of FFA in the state will be local instruction,” said Duarte.

“We’re pretty much gone every weekend,” said the second-year teacher. “The impact of this move is going to be huge.”

“It’s scary,” added Paul Kenney, a parent of two FFA students and president of the booster club for Gilroy’s FFA chapter.

“I’m worried about cutting back after-school programs. That bothers me,” Kenney said.

State officials have noted that regional ag programs will still be intact. However, they will operate without the 12 ag education consultants who staff regional offices.

“That’s like having a car without the wheels. The car still exists, but it has no way to move,” Aschwanden said. “You can’t sit in a cubicle in Sacramento and make a difference in Pomona.”

Aschwanden says that in addition to planning the regional and state conferences and competitions, ag consultants travel within their regions to share information and offer advice to individual chapters.

“That regional connection will be gone. Chapters will exist in a lot more isolation,” Aschwanden said.

Eastin’s eight-year term is up January, 2003. Jack O’Connell and Katherine Smith are vying for her seat in the Nov. 5 election.

Aschwanden said that Smith has pledged to reinstate the regional ag offices if she is elected. O’Connell has not yet given comment to the CATA, Aschwanden said.

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