Mancos school board members on Monday told Montezuma School to Farm Project staffers that they might not be able to help fund the project in 2017.
School to Farm runs three student gardens, one each in Mancos, Dolores and Cortez. Staff members provide education on gardening, conservation, healthy eating, active lifestyles and sustainability for students in those districts. The produce students help to grow in the gardens is often served with lunch in school cafeterias.
On Monday, the project’s director, Zoe Nelson, asked Mancos school board members to contribute $6,000 toward the program’s 2017 budget, which totals just under $84,000. Much of that budget is supported through various grants, but participating school districts contribute, too, garden educator Erin Bohm said at Monday’s meeting.
Board members told Nelson and Bohm they valued the School to Farm Project and saw the benefit in its services. But they didn’t make any promises about funding the program. Board president Blake Mitchell said the state department of education will be decreasing funding for the district in that year.
“There are some serious financial issues coming up,” Mitchell said. “There’s a real possibility we won’t be able to support (the program).”
Nelson said she would do all she could to persuade the board to contribute funds, or look for another way, possibly a grant, to raise that money for the program. She said she hoped the collaboration could continue between the project and the Mancos School District.
“We hope to be more of an asset than a burden to the district,” Nelson said.
Board member Monty Guiles said that about five years ago when the School to Farm Project started, board members were led to believe the district would not have to contribute money toward it. Every year since then, Guiles said, the project has asked for more money.
Bohm said one reason for that increase is that the grant application process has become more competitive over the past five years. Many grants are more likely awarded to programs that have received contributions from school districts, Bohm said. Grant administrators like to see some level of commitment from the districts, she said.
Bohm and Nelson left the meeting without a definite answer from the board.
Later in the discussion, Mancos Schools Superintendent Brian Hanson identified School to Farm Project as part of a “trend” of programs that originally were free for the district but aren’t any longer. With decreasing funding from the state, Hanson said, the board might face choices between such programs and other district priorities, such as raising salaries for faculty and staff. Hanson said the salary schedule had needed an update, which might help the district recruit and retain teachers.
“We need to get base salaries higher,” he said.
At Monday’s meeting, middle and high school principal Adam Priestly discussed a different agriculture-focused program, Future Farmers of America.
About 16 students were interested in starting FFA involvement at Mancos schools, Priestly said. The school would at first start an FFA club, with the possibility of becoming a full-fledged chapter sometime down the road, he said.
More than 620,000 students nationwide in kindergarten through 12th grade are involved in FFA in nearly 8,000 chapters around the country, according to the organization’s website. FFA coordinates programs with educators and advisers to prepare members for careers in various fields, including agribusiness, horticulture and science.
Priestly said the district could develop a full agriculture program with FFA as a starting point. Mitchell said some students in other districts might transfer to Mancos schools if the district started an ag program. He said he knew of students who would otherwise be attending Mancos schools, but were in other districts because they offered agriculture programs.
Hanson endorsed FFA, too.
“The opportunities are endless,” he said. “This has the potential to go far.”
Also at Monday’s meeting, board members unanimously voted against instating a leave of absence policy for district teachers.
Board members approved the resignation of Kerri Morgan from the Early Learning Center. They also approved the following district hires:
Trey Gordinier and Kalyn Boyer as assistant high school boys and girls track coaches,Josh Gardner as assistant middle school boys and girls track coach,Brandi Durr as assistant middle school boys and girls track coach for one-third of the season, andAudrey Huver as transportation paraprofessional.