The Ottumwa Courier

Southeast Iowa

March 12, 2014

School's ag program fate unresolved

KEOSAUQUA — In a meeting that became heated at times, the Van Buren Community School Board voted to gather more information before deciding the future of its ag program.

The board will place the matter on the agenda for the March 19 regular board meeting. Over the past few years, interest in ag-related classes have shrunk to the point where just a handful of students are taking them, according to school officials.

According to Superintendent Dr. Pam Ewell, the total number of students enrolled in 2009 was 34. By 2011-12, it had dropped to 12 and this year stands at 15. Some classes have just two or four students.

“In this time of declining enrollment, it’s a tough thing for schools to offer those courses and for students taking anything that isn’t required in the core.”

She said the master schedule was changed during the 2012-13 school year to move ag classes to the afternoon. This was to prevent students choosing between band/chorus and ag electives. The intent, she said, was to increase enrollment. In the second semester, there are currently four students enrolled.

She has proposed sharing Van Buren’s agriculture classes with another school. Fairfield has been considered. “In the environment when you have increasing expenses, decreasing enrollment and decreasing revenue, we are trying to sustain the program through sharing,” said Ewell.

According to high school principal Chuck Banks, currently, the total costs are $36,105.55 to run the agriculture program, which includes the teacher’s salary. He said if they shared with Fairfield, the costs would be $12,762.88. This includes $7,080 for the driver and $2,378.88 for vehicle costs. It also includes a cost of $6,360 for cost paid to Fairfield. The school would receive $3,056 in supplemental weighting back from the state.

“We’re not trying to cut the ag program; we are trying to save it,” said board member Kara McEntee. “It’s a hard thing, but if kids want to keep the ag program here, they will have to show the interest,” said McEntee.

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