Clean out your desks…

Talk about a bum career move. The two employees of the Superior Region Future Farmers of America are being told to pack up and move from their office at the Chico State University Farm to cubicles in Sacramento.

It’s a cost-cutting idea by lame-duck California Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, who pitched the plan after the Legislative session was over, giving supporters of agricultural education little time to lobby to get the move reversed. All the state’s regional offices will be shut down effective Nov. 4. Fourteen employees, including consultants in business, home economics and other “Career Technical Education” fields, have been told that, if they want jobs, they’re in Sacramento from now on.

In Chico, the Superior Region employees work behind the scenes to support agricultural education from Auburn to the Oregon border and put on such events as state conferences and meetings where 7,900 area FFA students learn, compete and network.

“This is pretty devastating and pretty vengeful,” said Chico High ag teacher David Wemp. “To me, it’s purely politics.” He said it’s possible he and his colleagues could volunteer their time to put on an entire regional leadership conference like the one that took place in Chico last month, but it would be of disappointing quality.

Meghan Barker, a junior at Chico High School and regional treasurer for FFA, agreed that the move is a leap backward.

“It’s going to have a huge effect on all of the teachers and all the students,” said Barker, who, along with other students, has sent a letter of protest directed to Eastin and other politicians who “don’t understand how important it is for students, and they don’t understand agriculture.”

It’s not positions that have 30 days (later extended to 60 by the Labor Relations Board) to move to Sacramento, it’s people: Superior Region Supervisor Jeanette Sturzen and half-time secretary Janet Johnson. Johnson has held her position for 31 years. Sturzen, a Chico State graduate, will commute rather than move her family—which includes 5-year-old twins and an 8-year-old—from the family farm in Orland, where she was raised. “I want them to grow up in the country,” she said. Sturzen added that she’s worried most about the FFA students who will go without.

Blue corduroy blues

“It really disturbs me as a parent that we’re playing political games during the last 90 days of [Eastin’s] tenure,” said Jim Aschwanden, executive director of the California Agricultural Teachers Association (CATA), in a telephone interview from Sacramento.

He believes the California Department of Education not only wants to raid the programs for bodies to do other kinds of work, but perhaps even more so “they were counting on everyone getting disgusted with this move and quitting.” Adding insult to injury, Aschwanden said, is the fact that in most cases ag education gets its money from federal grants, not state dollars. It won’t save money, he said, and it violates the Education Code, which calls for regional delivery of ag education.

“If you take away that structure there is no structure,” said Aschwanden, who has a son at Chico State and a daughter who is involved in FFA. “It leaves local chapters isolated.”

Eastin’s parting shot

Eastin has sent out a form letter stating she had no choice given the budget deficit and hiring freeze but to “relocate” staff in the High School Leadership Division. “Over the past three years, it has become increasingly evident across all programs that it is ineffective and unrealistic to believe that CDE staff can effectively support teachers throughout this vast state. Instead the state’s priority is for CDE to support school districts and county offices of education, which in turn assist schools and teachers,” Eastin stated.

The CATA, which has a lobbying role, has given up on changing Eastin’s mind. “She doesn’t care. She’s going to move on,” Aschwanden said of Eastin. “We’re going to keep fighting this thing.”

They’ve approached superintendent candidates Jack O’Connell and Kathy Smith. Smith has vowed to reverse the decision if elected, while O’Connell has yet to take a position.