Future of FHS vo-ag program in doubt
A special board meeting of Fairfield Community School District drew 25-30 people Tuesday to hear a discussion about potential program cuts due to staff changes.
At the end of an hour, the board agreed for Fairfield High School Principal Aaron Becker to hire a full-time agricultural education teacher for the 2014-15 school year.
The meeting agenda had no provision for public input, though some audience members wanted to address the board.
School board president Jennifer Anderson said the board’s Finance Committee discussed budget cuts last month and several options were considered. The Finance Committee includes three school board members — Anderson, Jeremy Miller and Joe Carr — as well as district business manger Kim Sheets and administrators.
“The board made $300,000 in cuts to the 2014-15 budget, but it’s a wash because the contract negotiations we made with a 3.5 percent increase settlement adds $296,000 to the year’s budget,” said Anderson.
“With no new money coming in, we know we’ll have to cut the budget anywhere from $500,000 to $800,000 in 2015-16 school year. The committee discussed that at this point there are no easy cuts,” she said.
“We are required to have a positive unspent balance. One consideration we discussed was cutting the vo-ag program,” said Anderson.
Because a vacancy has now opened, FHS principal faces a hiring decision about the vo-ag teaching position, said Anderson
High school agricultural education teacher, Ann Johnston, submitted a resignation Sunday night, asking to be released from her 2014-15 school year contract with the district.
Johnston has taught vo-ag classes and been the FFA sponsor for six years at Fairfield High School. She has accepted a K-12 guidance counselor job with Moulton-Udell Community School District that will be a shared position with Seymour Community School District.
Anderson told fellow board members that four options were on the table:
• Replace the vo-ag teacher.
• Cut the program and not hire a teacher.
• Hire a part-time teacher.
• Share a vo-ag teacher with a neighboring school district.
“It’s a huge problem — in visiting with Ann [Johnston] and Mr. Becker, and getting a count of the students enrolled in vo-ag classes — to cut the program, those students would have to be absorbed into other classes,” said Anderson.
“We won’t know the exact amount of budget cuts needed until October.”
The annual school certified enrollment is counted each October and state funding for the following school year is based on the number of enrolled students in a district during the annual count. If enrollment is the same or decreasing, no new money comes into the district.
“We can weather one year because we have the spending authority, but we will be near the brink the next year and have to make big cuts,” said Carr. “We just don’t know where.”
Anderson also brought up that it may be difficult to find a qualified agricultural teacher who can be guaranteed one year of full-time teaching, but maybe part-time or no program after 2014-15.
Becker said 80 students have registered for ag classes first semester and 71 have registered for second semester for 2014-15.
“It will be difficult to find spots in other classes for them if the program were cut for next year,” he said.
Seven classes are scheduled each day in the first semester and six classes in the second semester. Classes include agricultural business; wildlife management; agricultural mechanics, I and II; horticulture; agricultural exploration, a yearlong class; small animals; animal science; and advanced horticulture.
Board member Phil Miller asked how many Van Buren County high school students were interested in taking ag classes.
Board member Rich Metcalf said those students will go to Central Lee in Donnellson for agricultural classes.
“Do we want to discuss this with Van Buren for future years?” said Anderson. “Do we want to move forward with the program and build it up to attract more students?”
Other suggestions included checking if Indian Hills Community College might assist the district; asking Mt. Pleasant, which hasn’t provided ag classes in its high school for 30 years or so according to audience members, if it has students who would want to attend ag classes in Fairfield; and look at sharing an ag teacher with a neighboring school district.
Becker said it was already a short time frame for advertising, sorting candidates, and hiring a teacher for the 2014-15 school year. He asked to have clear direction from the board Tuesday night.
“We’ve had to make cuts before, but we’ve never cut a whole program,” said board member Jerry Nelson. “I don’t think we should cut this program.”
Carr said he agreed.
“Vocational agricultural classes have had a positive effect on a lot of students,” said Carr. “It’s important.”
Anderson agreed and added that agriculture is a vital part of the area.
“If we go with a half-time teacher, we won’t be able to build up the program,” she said.
When polled by Anderson, all the board members agreed to continue with hiring a full-time teacher for the vo-ag/FFA program for 2014-15.
After the meeting, FHS special education teacher Staci Wright said keeping the ag classes was very important to her students. Wright said several students in special education take the vo-ag classes and would struggle to find placement in other electives.
In addition to Johnston’s resignation, the board accepted resignations, effective immediately from:
• Chris Welch, principal at Pence Elementary School. He has served as principal in the district for three years. He has accepted a job as elementary principal in the Pleasant Valley Community School District.
• Andrew Hopper, high school social studies teacher and varsity assistant track coach. He is moving closer to family in Des Moines.
• Cheyenne DeMoss, fifth grade teacher. She has taught at Fairfield Middle School for three years. She has accepted a job teaching fifth grade in Earlham.
• Becky Hobbs, high school custodian.
• Donnie Hopper, bus driver.
The board also approved one correction in the fees for 2014-15 school year. A 20-count milk punch ticket is $7, not $6 as approved at the June 16 board meeting.
The school board approved the district preschool program policies and procedure handbook and the Elementary Student and Parent Handbook for 2014-15 at its June 16 meeting.
One change for the coming school year is having preschool classes four days a week instead of five days a week. No preschool classes will be held on Wednesdays. Morning sessions will be 8:45-11:15 a.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Afternoon sessions are 12:15-2:45 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Classes are held at Washington Elementary School.
Children 4 years old prior to Sept. 15 each school year can attend the district’s preschool at no tuition charge. Three- and 5-year-old children are charged tuition of $50 per month. Application materials are available at the district’s Administration/Curriculum/Technology Center.