by nathan oster
The Big Horn County School District No. 3 board of education last week moved a step closer, but stopped of endorsing a plan to re-establish an agriculture program for middle school and high school students in Greybull.
The discussion is expected to resume at the December meeting.
Board members, at their meeting Nov. 14, asked their administrative team for a better break-out of the pros and cons of proceeding with the ag program, including the potential impact on current staff and classroom space.
Some board members also expressed a desire to talk about the future of agriculture, and the potential for jobs within the industry, with someone associated with a university. That discussion took place earlier this week with an instructor at the University of Wyoming.
Supt. Barry Bryant has been lobbying for the ag program for the past several months, citing strong interest at both the middle and high schools. Surveys conducted since last meeting seem to back his claims.
Principal Ty Flock said 44 students at the high school — about 40 percent of respondents — said they’d consider taking an ag class if one was offered. Thirty-three percent said they’d consider participating in Future Farmers of America.
The percentages were even higher at the middle school, where Principal Joel Rogers said “65 to 68 percent” of the approximately 50 survey respondents said they’d consider ag courses and joining FFA.
Currently there are 18 GHS students who travel to Basin to participate in the ag program at Riverside High School. For years, that program was led by Jared Boardman, who left after the 2016-17 school year to take a similar position north Big Horn County.
There are 53 FFA chapters in the state of Wyoming and 36 of the 48 school districts in the state offer some form of an ag program, according to Bryant.
Bryant has cited in recent discussion several key pieces already in place, including the 20-acre Buff Ranch northeast of town that features two commercial greenhouses, as well as the Quigg Building shop areas and classroom, the central office classroom, and classroom space at the high school.
In terms of cost, Bryant is projecting $80,000 for a teacher (which includes both salary and benefits) and another $20,000 in program costs. About half of that ($10,000) would be set aside for the activity budget, largely for travel.
Bryant is also projecting a stipend of $1,500 for the FFA sponsor and as well as pay for up to 25 extra days on the job in the summer, when kids are preparing and then participating in the county and state fairs.
From a savings standpoint, the district is currently paying between $5,000 and $8,000 to Big Horn County School District No. 4 for its students to participate in the ag program at RHS.
Districts also receive additional funding from the state’s funding model for students who enroll in Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses. The model pays 1.24 for CTE classes, so if 16 enroll in six classes, the district would receive $52,000 per year more from the state. If 20 enroll, it would mean an additional $66,000.
Bryant’s estimates that the program, in its first year, could cost the district up to $45,000. Best case, he said, would be breaking even — that is, if the program attracts students from out of the district to GHS/GMS.
Not everyone is in favor of proceeding, however. Ralph Wensky, who teaches industrial arts and is the SKILLS USA advisor, said he “isn’t completely against the ag program or any vocational program…in fact, I feel we need more of that in our schools.”
However, he said he has concerns about the impact of the ag program on his programming and facilities. The welding program, in particular, has been thriving; seven recent graduates of GHS are currently taking welding courses at Northwest College. Wensky added that participation in the SKILLS USA program is also up this year.
Wensky said he’s concerned about the financial impact moving forward. If there are further cuts from the state, the district will have to tighten its belt even more, which could lead to the elimination of programs and/or staff.
He also noted that with enrollment down slightly already, a number of high school classes aren’t full at this time; if more classes are offered, the student body would be further divided.
Wensky added that district’s base salary is the lowest in Big Horn County — it used to be one of the highest, he said — and that he fears startup costs are being underestimated and that it could result in some overlapping of content.
Trustees and administrators devoted most of their talks to the importance of gathering public input and timing.
Board member Joe Sylvester said he’d like to hear from more people who would be directly impacted by the decision — and that includes not only students but their parents as well. Flock and Rogers said there were steps they could take to track that information down.
Flock said the sense he gets is, “Our student body is pretty excited about this.”
Eddie Johnson, chairman of the board, said that if the district is going to launch an ag program in 2018-19, the board needs to make a decision sooner, rather than later, so that it can start advertising the ag teaching position.
Bryant said his goal is to advertise “before the Christmas break.”
In other Nov. 14 business:
- The resignation of Jarrett Nelson, a para-educator at the middle school, was accepted.
- The board approved its 2016-17 audit, which gave the district and its business staff high marks and an unmodified opinion showing no material weakensses. The district also received kudos for its frugality in trimming the gap between expenditures and revenues in its enterprise funds and earmarking $750,000 into its reserves.
- Grading was a frequent topic, as the board devoted the first half-hour to a proposed switch from a traditional grading system to “standards-based grading.” It was informational only, as no decisions were made. Look for more on this change in an upcoming issue.
Flock said GHS and every other high school in Wyoming will be switching to a 5.0 grading scale in some of its classes for the 2018-19 school year.
- In WHSAA news, Flock said Greybull-Riverside’s status as a 2A wrestling team could be jeopardy. Right now, it’s firmly entrenched in 2A because Riverside is considered the host school. But a proposal is on the table that would require combined teams like G/R to use the enrollment of the largest school. Depending upon where the numbers fall, that could result in G-R being pushed up to the 3A ranks. Another option would be for the program to split and both Greybull and Riverside field wrestling teams.
Flock said there’s also been a push to allow schools to start boys and girls basketball and wrestling practices before the Thanksgiving holiday; right now, teams are waiting until after Thanksgiving to lace them up.
- The board, upon emerging from an executive session, authorized Bryant to pursue an opportunity land purchase.
- In an attempt to get in front of the hiring curve, the district will again be providing a little extra incentive to certified and supervisory who inform the district before Feb. 1 of their intention to retire or resign. The first three staff members who do will receive a $1,000 stipend.
By doing this, the district can advertise the vacancies and hire at the optimal time of the year.
- Bryant provided a preview of an estimated $408,000 in major maintenance projects that are in the works for next summer. The district anticipates receiving about $470,000 in major maintenance funding from the state, which would leave about $62,000 unspent.
The summer projects include upgrading to LED lighting around campus ($100,000), new flooring at the elementary school ($80,000) and reconfigurations at the elementary school ($40,000).
- The board accepted the donation of a server cabinet, valued at about $850, from Wyo-Ben.
The tech department at the bus barn will benefit from the donation.