Local FFA programs may be in jeopardy

The Future Farmers of America program at San Benito High School
is being threatened by statewide education cuts from budget
shortfalls.
The Future Farmers of America program at San Benito High School is being threatened by statewide education cuts from budget shortfalls.

As of Nov. 4, 12 agricultural education consultants from regional agricultural education offices will discontinue directing and promoting regional and statewide FFA activities and will perform other duties for the California Department of Education.

The move jeopardizes local programs at SBHS as well as statewide because of potential funding cuts to the program, said Tim Sailors, head of the high school’s FFA program.

“Our funds might be threatened,” Sailors said. “We already don’t get enough from the state.”

With the loss of regional supervisors, FFA students will lose the opportunity to compete at the regional level, which will make it difficult to participate in state competitions, Sailors said. The move may also hurt many agriculture related programs, he said.

San Benito High has six different FFA courses with 136 students enrolled. Classes offered include agriculture leadership, speaking and job training.

The school recently set aside $31,000 for a new agriculture truck in a joint effort with the school’s Ag Boosters and the school district.

FFA is a national organization that works with individual schools to set up agricultural science curricula in the classroom. It also coordinates conferences and competitions at regional and statewide levels that hone the skills of agriculture students and provides experience in farming, record-keeping and leadership, among others. Its mission involves character development, community involvement and awareness of the importance of agriculture in society.

The move was made because of budget shortfalls, according to a statement by Delaine Eastin, California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction.

“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 the statement. “With the current budget shortfall, we will be losing 100 positions this year.”

Agriculture educators are criticizing the move as the first step in dismantling FFA. The effect of the move will be devastating for statewide and local FFA activities, said Jim Aschwanden, executive director of the California Agriculture Teachers Association.

“The students get the direct benefit of people working with the agricultural industry in the specific region,” Aschwanden said. “You remove those people and there’s no network or delivery system by which those students can use. The direct impact for kids is they won’t be able to participate in normal FFA activities.”

CATA is considering legal action against the state, which could stop the move because funding for the regional agricultural education offices comes entirely from federal funds, Aschwanden said.

Aschwanden takes an analogous approach to the situation.

“It’s like taking a car and taking all four wheels off and having the audacity to stand back and point and say, ‘See, that car still works,'” he said. “The fact that it doesn’t have any wheels doesn’t bother (state education officials), but it bothers us.”

The Gilroy chapter of the FFA, located at Gilroy High School, has grown in recent years, with more than 200 students currently involved in curricular and extracurricular activities. There are three teachers in the agriculture science program at the school and students attend roughly 50 FFA activities a year.

But after Nov. 4, the only thing left of FFA in the state will be local instruction, said David Duarte, head of Gilroy High’s agriculture science department and FFA advisor.

“We’re pretty much gone (to activities) every weekend,” Duarte said. “The impact of this move is going to be huge.”

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