County must find .01288% to save 4-H

Santa Clara County 4-H members and supervisors undoubtedly
breathed grateful sighs of relief after an anonymous $40,000
donation helped to save the program for one year.
Santa Clara County 4-H members and supervisors undoubtedly breathed grateful sighs of relief after an anonymous $40,000 donation helped to save the program for one year.

We also thank the generous donor who kept the key agriculture program alive for a year with their selfless gift.

But we also need to remember that this is a short-term solution to a long-term problem.

The problem is two-pronged. The first part of the problem is the University of California’s unwillingness to bend its rules when failure to do so dooms its programs. The UC, which administers 4-H as part of a multi-program package, remains unwilling to let counties pick and choose which of its cooperative extension programs they want to offer. 4-H, with its paltry $20,000 price tag, is arguably the UC extension program with the most bang for the buck.

UC officials at first balked at allowing 4-H families to fundraise to save the program and at first were going to veto the $40,000 donation that saved the program. Some persuasive lobbying from County Supervisor Don Gage and others convinced UC officials to change their donation and fundraising policy.

But as we said when 4-H’s perilous position first became news, “In these lean budget times, that kind of bureaucratic stubbornness is irresponsible. For California, its cities, counties and schools to survive the fiscal crisis, we need our leaders to be flexible and focused on priorities.”

The second problem falls squarely in the county’s lap. Supervisors approved a $3.4 billion budget for fiscal year 2004-2005, in which $20,000 for 4-H, or $438,000 for the entire UC cooperative extension package was considered to be too much.

Let’s put that in perspective. 4-H’s $20,000 price tax is .000588 percent of the county’s total budget. At $438,000, the entire cooperative extension program takes a .012882 percent chunk of the entire budget. Either of those numbers is the definition of “a drop in the bucket.”

Of course we understand that cuts had to be made in county programs and services to close a budget gap. But it’s hard to believe that the county couldn’t find .01288 percent of fat to cut so that a program as valuable as 4-H could be spared.

4-H, run largely by volunteers, has had positive impact on youth for generations. In addition to teaching valuable animal husbandry skills, it also teaches social and business skills. A modest $20,000 investment reaps untold dividends.

Perhaps that’s easier to forget here in Santa Clara County, where our county seat is in urban San Jose and where our agricultural heritage is diluted by Silicon Valley than it is in San Benito County.

There, when 4-H was threatened, picketers protested outside San Benito County’ Supervisors’ chambers in Hollister and circulated petitions.

Although a final decision won’t be made until August, supervisors have pledged to try to save the program.

It’s a crime that in a county with a $3.4 billion budget anyone ever seriously considered ending 4-H. We can all be relieved that the program has been saved for one year. But we call on county supervisors and UC officials to find a way to make sure 4-H is never threatened with extinction again.

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