WOODBURY — Everyone sitting around a table in the Superintendent’s Conference Room on Thursday, January 16, was in agreement that there is a clear disparity in state funding between vocational-agriculture programs and other magnet-type schools, but the question was, what could be done to reverse that discrimination?
It’s not that the district hasn’t tried, Region 14 Director of Agriscience Edward Belinsky pointed out. It is that nothing that has been tried has worked thus far.
Superintendent of Schools Joseph Olzacki jokingly suggested that a line of tractors and combines driving up I-84 at 20 miles per hour on the way to Hartford might do the trick. While everyone laughed, they kept coming back to that image as a talking point.
Everyone eats, but no one thinks about how that food got to the supermarket, state Sen. Eric Berthel, R-32, said, also pointing out that agriscience is much more than just food. It’s veterinarians, scientific research, medicine and many other areas too numerous to mention.
Sen. Berthel talked about a visit he recently made to Theraplant in Watertown, the state’s first and largest producer of medical marijuana. The company employs about 200 people, he said, each of whom is highly educated. While the number of farms in the state may be decreasing, agriscience is a huge, growing industry.
State Rep. David Wilson, R-68, said the time may be right to try again. Business and education are hot topics in Hartford, and legislators are concerned about how children are prepared for careers.
State Rep. Joe Polletta, R-66, suggested local legislators draft a joint letter asking for consideration. Sen. Berthel and Rep. Wilson agreed.
Sen. Berthel pointed out that he is the ranking member of the Senate Education Committee and he would willingly put forth legislation to address the issue, but that it would be prudent to get other vo-ag school districts to join in, as well as their representatives. If possible, a coalition of vo-ag schools could hire a lobbyist to assist.
An email from William Davenport, Region 14’s former Agriscience program director, regarding the shortage said it was easily seen on the current state budget, and that anyone could look it up.
Agriculture programs are funded at $4,400 per student, while vo-tech is more than $12,500 per student, and magnet schools are from $7,900 to $13,500.
Region 14 Director of Finance and Operations Wayne McAllister said the sending towns used to pay $8,100 per student, but now only pay $6,800. That vo-ag funding is encumbered with the Education Cost Sharing Grant, Sen. Berthel said, and, as Rep. Wilson pointed out, that part of the money is passed through ECS to sending towns.