TWIN BRIDGES – After more than an hour and a half of discussion and public comment the Twin Bridges School Board voted 4-1 to hire a full-time Agriculture Education instructor at their regular monthly meeting last Tuesday.
Currently the district uses a curriculum called the Nelson Academy of Agricultural Sciences Online. This fall a sub-committee of board members was formed to look into the pros and cons of the digital Ag Ed program, and trustee Lori Harshbarger explained that while the online curriculum might well serve as a supplemental program, it should not be a substitute for the hands-on experience that can only be attained by working with a teacher.
Twin Bridges School superintendent Chad Johnson opened the discussion by explaining the current online agricultural curriculum and made the recommendation that the board approve the online digital ag education courses through the Nelson Academy rather than hire the full-time teacher. He emphasized that the district should look into the possibility of adding a hands-on component the current curriculum.
Board chair Dave Ashcraft voiced his support for hiring a full-time instructor and then opened the floor to the other trustees to voice their opinions on the issue. While the responses varied between each board member to some degree, it was clear almost all the trustees supported a full-time position to move toward a more hands-on approach to agricultural education.
Vice chair Joan Phillips did not support a full time Ag Ed position because of the cost to the district, which Johnson had estimated to be approximately $70,000.
While she fully accepts the benefits of an Ag Ed program and supports the availability of Ag Ed classes to Twin Bridges students, the cost to hire a teacher is just too much.
“The bottom line is that we as a school cannot afford it,” Phillips said.
Ashcraft explained the district would be able to afford the position due in part to an expected increase in enrollment and changes to certain programs within the school. He added that while the school administration may claim the district cannot afford the position, Ag Ed is a high priority for him and other board members and they will make it work within the schools approximately $2 million annual budget.
Many members of the public in attendance at the meeting drew comparisons to the FFA program in Sheridan, which has already proven successful. The discussion veered toward the how students benefit from learning about agriculture, but got back on track when it was noted the discussion was not about whether or not FFA is a good program but rather if the district could afford to hire a full-time instructor.
Other members of the public in attendance expressed concern about whether or not other classes or teaching positions would be cut to be able to afford the full-time Ag Ed instructor.
How the new position would fit within the budget and the current roster of teachers would be an issue addressed when it came time to review the annual budget, Ashcraft said.
Johnson said he would begin advertising immediately to fill the position.