A contingent of local and state officials with Kentucky Farm Bureau has petitioned the Harlan County Board of Education to establish an agriculture education program at Harlan County High School.
During a recent regular monthly board meeting, an advocacy group from KFB, including local president Don Miniard and board member Nathan Boggs, pointed out the benefits such a program could provide to students, including enhanced college scholarship opportunities.
For their part, school board members and the administrative staff remain sympathetic, but cautioned its supporters to understand the high costs involved in starting such an extensive program from scratch.
The school system no longer has the equipment needed to instruct students, nor does it have surplus funds available to cover the costs of a certified position that is guaranteed a larger number of contractual days than nearly every other such staff member in the district.
The combination of declining school enrollment over the years, a shrinking local tax base, along with ever-increasing operational costs, has made such an expensive school program unlikely outside of some generous grant or gift, school officials say.
Miniard noted that Harlan County is one of only seven school districts in the state without an agriculture education teacher on staff. Since Harlan County has a very small proportion of tillable land, he stressed forestry as a key component of Kentucky agriculture and that would be of particular benefit to Harlan County’s students.
Boggs said the extensive experience many local families have with gardening would be a strong cultural connection for many students and would prepare them to succeed in an academic program that could expand their knowledge and understanding of how agriculture can provide viable economic opportunities for their future.
Bryan Alvey, director of local affairs and policy development for KFB’s state office, noted the benefits to students in leadership development programs and community involvement activities, particularly through allied groups like the Future Farmers of America (FFA).
James Kash, a student from Beattyville, said his experience as a successful student in the agriculture program in Lee County had provided an opportunity to receive funds covering tuition costs at the University of Kentucky.
According to Kash, an agriculture education program has seven career pathways involving over 300 individual careers, almost all of them separate from what he referred to as “farm work.”
Board Chairman Gary Farmer continued to express his and the board’s support for agriculture education, but the lack of success when such a program was in place at James A. Cawood High School has left the district without the equipment or supplies to begin again at the consolidated school.
For example, the greenhouse used at Cawood High had deteriorated badly and was donated as surplus to county government a few years ago. It is now refurbished and in use at the jail.
For some start-up funding, Kash said, the school district could look to grant sources like the FFA program, of which Kash is a member. He also noted some state grant funding could be available through what he referred to as “the Carl D. Perkins Act” – presumably referring to the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act of 2006, the fourth such Congressional action to fund technical education
programs under the late senator’s name funneling federal dollars through the U.S. Department of Education to each state education department.
School officials remain skeptical that the level of local funding necessary, estimated to exceed $250,000 to begin with, could be made available through such means. They did express their gratitude to Farm Bureau members for their enthusiasm and support of local students and said they remain open for any opportunities they could help them find to fund such a program.
In other action, the board:
• Approved the superintendent’s employment report including nine certified staff hired with two transfers and one resignation, along with two classified staff hired with six transfers and one resignation;
• Recognized Black Mountain, James A. Cawood, Green Hills, Cawood and Wallins elementary schools for saving more than $53,000 in school energy costs under the new energy management program with each school receiving awards worth ten percent of their facility’s realized savings;
• Discussed progress on facility repairs to air conditioning problems at Black Mountain and an ongoing roof leak issue and gym floor problem at the high school;
• Approved payment of claims totaling $684,752.21;
• Approved the monthly financial report;
• Approved the FY15 KETS technology activity report;
• Declared computers, switches and various technology department items as surplus with no monetary value;
• Declared old student desks and chairs as surplus;
• Approved two quotes for combi-ovens for James A. Cawood elementary and two for Cawood elementary;
• Approved advertising for bids for the purchase additional serving line at Cumberland;
• Approved a Green Hills TranspARTation grant application to fund a trip to Hazard for the Lexington Children’s Theater production of “Where the Red Fern Grows;”
• Approved the high school’s trip to Morristown, Tennessee for Spanish students;
• Approved a Wallins eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C. for May 30 to June 2, 2016;
• Approved a Wallins eighth-grade trip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee on Nov. 7;
• Approved a Wallins first-grade trip to Oakes Farm on Oct. 16;
• Approved a Black Mountain fourth-grade trip to the Knoxville Zoo;
• Approved a lease agreement with Johnco for two copiers at Cawood elementary;
• Approved a high school band trip to Bristol, Tennessee on Oct. 3 and to the University of Virginia at Wise on Oct. 24;
• Approved a trip for James A. Cawood Elementary School kindergarten- through second-grade to Corryton, Tenn.;
• Approved an Evarts kindergarten, first-grade and special needs class trip to see a “Disney on Ice” production in Knoxville Oct. 30;
• Formally approved a high school First Priority trip for leadership training to Cumberland Gap, Tennessee on Sept. 12, which the board members had approved by poll prior to the board meeting;
• Approved a Rosspoint school-wide PTO fundraiser;
• Approved the annual unaudited financial reports;
• Approved the 2015-16 working budget of just over $30 million;
• Approved the first reading of revised board policy 08.222 removing outdated language;
• Set the next meeting for 7 p.m. on Oct. 22 in the district’s central office.