CDN Editor: In an electronic mail message to CDN today (August 19, 2010) School Board Chairman Robina Bouffault said:
“You perhaps misunderstood me when you quoted me as saying: “Last year horticulture had 65 students” Bouffault said. “This year there are only 45.” I said that two years ago horticulture had 65 students, while this past year there were only 45.”
School Board Chairman Robina Bouffault told the Clarke County Board of Supervisors yesterday that there are no plans or budget to consolidate the school’s agriculture and vocational technology training on the main campus of the new high school. Bouffault’s announcement caught several Supervisors by surprise and revealed a stark reality about the School Board’s budget priorities for the new campus.
Yesterday’s discussion was touched off by an impromptu comment by Supervisor David Weiss (Buckmarsh) suggesting that the county’s agriculture community still hopes to include a greenhouse and other “hands-on” curriculum at the new school campus. Current planning is focused on transporting students between the new high school facility and existing horticulture, agriculture and vocational facilities located at the existing high school.
“I’ve been speaking with several people in the agriculture community and there is strong interest in moving the greenhouse and vocational technology and agriculture program to the new school site” Weiss said to Bouffault. “People want to help figure out how to do this.”
“That’s not an option” Bouffault replied. “There is no space for the facilities and no funds with which to do this. The plan is to leave all of the vocational technology and agriculture buildings where they are now. The school board had this discussion two years ago.”
Supervisor Weiss: “Then I recommend that you have the discussion again because you have a public relations problem.”
Bouffault: “We’re only talking about the “hands-on” aspect of the program. This is a small group putting its wish list to the top of the list”
Supervisor Byrd: “What is the cost of bringing the programs to the new location? Can you give us a figure on this?”
Bouffault: “We haven’t looked at the cost doing this. This is a difficult piece of land with quite a bit of slope. Storm water runoff is a major, major issue.”
As Supervisors Byrd and Weiss listened to Bouffault’s explanation, Supervisor Pete Dunning (White Post) attempted to squelch further discussion of consolidating the agriculture education functions on the new site.
“We’ve got to support the School Board on this” Dunning said. “Everyone’s got a pet project and we can’t afford it. They don’t have to have all of that on the main campus. People have to grow up and adapt to the world today.”
School Board Chairman Bouffault then told the Board of Supervisors that the CCPS horticulture program was in decline.
“Last year horticulture had 65 students” Bouffault said. “This year there are only 45.”
[CDN Editor: Please see reference at the beginning of this story]
However, the CCPS horticulture program is not in decline, and has in fact more than doubled since last year.
According to CCPS enrollment figures, this year’s horticulture enrollment is 91 students, up from 45 in the last school year. Further, school officials said that approximately 20 freshmen students were turned away from horticulture classes last year due to teaching capacity challenges.
Likewise, student interest in CCPS’s overall agriculture education program is also growing at healthy pace with this year’s projected enrollment at 250 students, up from 228 last year.
Many in the agriculture community, including the Farm Bureau, have offered new ideas to the School Board to increase support for vocational and farm education programs within Clarke County Public Schools. The general sense in the community was that the dialogue with the School Board might lead to a solution for including a greenhouse and vocational facilities on the new school campus.
Bouffault’s statement yesterday seemed to rule out that possibility.
“I had never heard before that the issue had already been decided” said Supervisor Weiss after the meeting. Supervisor Barbara Byrd also said that she was also surprised by Bouffault’s statement.
Logistically, school staff and citizens close to the vocational and agricultural education program question the contention that the new high school site’s poor soil and drainage are reasons for keeping the agriculture programs separated from the main campus.
“The farm itself can stay where it is. There’s no reason at all that it needs to be at the new school site. The day-to-day student activities do need to be on the main campus though” said one school staff member. “If the agriculture and vocational students have to be separated it will mean the death of the program.”
It is unclear whether serious financial analysis of the costs and benefits associated with maintaining separate campuses has been performed. CCPS school officials estimate that transportation costs associated with maintaining separate campuses for agriculture students will cost nearly $25K per year. Student class time will also be consumed by each trip to and from the separate campuses.
Clarke County Farm Bureau President Clay Brumbach said that while he would love to see the new school support the vocational and agricultural classes on a single campus, he also believes that the School Board should be allowed to do its job.
“I respect the School Board’s ability to do what they can with what they’ve been given” Brumbach said. “The $7 million surplus has caused a lot of things to jump to mind by a lot of people for how the money can be used.”
“The Farm Bureau is always going to support agriculture in Clarke County” Brumbach said.
At yesterday’s meeting, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation liaison Philip Shenk told the Supervisors that Clarke’s agriculture community would like to have a conversation with the Clarke County School Board on the separate campus issue.
“Ideally we’d like to see the vocational and agriculture classes at the new high school without it costing a lot of money” Shenk said. “The agriculture community doesn’t want taxes to go up. But we also don’t want the vocational and agriculture students apart from the new high school.”
The Clarke County Farm Bureau says that agriculture is Clarke County’s leading economic sector.
At yesterday’s meeting Bouffault presented the Supervisor’s with a list of the School Board’s “Potential Project Cost Analysis” for capital improvement projects. While the School Board’s list of potential projects did include a cost estimate for eight additional classrooms for the new school, there was no mention of the requested greenhouse or other vocational buildings.
Several public officials have questioned the need to add classroom space to the new high school when population estimates for Clarke County are expected to remain stagnant.
The budget estimate for the eight additional classrooms alone is $1.9 million. Bouffault and the Clarke County Farm Bureau plan to meet on September 28th. No agenda has been announced.