The Ottumwa Courier

April 16, 2014

Van Buren to share FFA with Harmony

Courier correspondent

---- — KEOSAUQUA — Van Buren Community School Board approved a recommendation from its administration to share the ag program with Harmony for the 2014-15 school year.

The decision means that Van Buren students would travel to Harmony to receive ag instruction.

Superintendent Dr. Pam Ewell recommended sharing the ag program with Harmony. “I made that recommendation after visiting with Harmony, and I think sharing the ag program with them is the best choice for our district,” she said.

The administration had been contemplating changes to the ag program after enrollment dwindled over the past several years. Van Buren had considered sharing with Fairfield, but the administration then focused on Harmony.

“I know it’s a sensitive issue,” Ewell said. “One thing that was important in the decision is that Harmony and Van Buren could merge the FFA club together as a countywide club.”

Van Buren ag instructor Jennifer Gardner disagreed with the decision. “Van Buren needs an ag program here,” she said.

As far as combining clubs, Gardner said, “the FFA club is required by rules to stay with the school which teaches the ag classes.”

She proposed offering ag as a science course and other ways to generate more interest and possibly reduce scheduling conflicts. She noted that pre-enrollment is up to 20 from 16.

The board asked secondary principal Chuck Banks whether that number would drop significantly after the district shares with Harmony. Banks said students had been asked that and there would be a small percentage, but he couldn’t predict an exact amount. Half of the enrollment are freshmen, according to Banks.

“We discussed this with Harmony and right now, the best thing would be to block out two periods, one period for the class and one for travel,” Banks said. Those students would use the study hall allotment for travel, he said.

“There are still things that need to be worked out,” said Ewell.

One parent asked the board about “putting 20 kids on a bus and sending them to Harmony that some might decide to stay and open enroll?”

Ewell said, “I wish I had a crystal ball.”

Bob Steingreaber, board member, noted that Harmony sends students to Van Buren for band and chorus and “we’re not getting them” to open enroll.

The board voted 4-2 on sharing the ag program with Harmony. Voting no were Rick Plowman and Andrew Lydolph. Voting yes were Kara McEntee, Cindy Lowe, Bob Steingreaber and Sheila Parsons. Board president Stan Whitten didn’t vote.