Published Online: October 30, 2002
Published in Print: October 30, 2002, as State Journal

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Agricultural Drought?

California's agricultural and vocational education regional offices are set to become the next victims of the state's budget cuts, as part of a move that program supporters say will jeopardize the futures of those endeavors.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin said last month that the four regional offices would be closed, and that employees who work in them would be moved to Sacramento in an effort to save money.

Supporters of the regional offices said the move makes no sense. The regional representatives, they argue, cannot do their jobs from the capital. They accuse Ms. Eastin of moving a hands-on program into the state bureaucracy.

"There's absolutely no benefit to this whatsoever," said Jim Aschwanden, the executive director of the California Agriculture Teachers Association.

"It's been a very disingenuous process, and total and complete lack of consultation," he asserted.

In a three-page letter, Ms. Eastin said that, because of hiring freezes, there simply were not enough staff members to keep the offices running.

Nicole Winger, a spokeswoman for Ms. Eastin, said agriculture education has at times had more consultants than even reading and mathematics, and now that the state faces deficits of up to $20 billion, cuts must be made.

"Now that we're being called on by the governor to make some cuts, we're having to make some hard decisions," Ms. Winger said.

As regional representatives, the state employees were responsible for coordinating a wide range of activities, from teacher training to working with students. The officials represent trades such as agriculture, home economics, and industrial and technical sciences.

Some educators say the decision could hurt student groups such as the Future Farmers of America, because the regional representatives typically coordinate such programs.

It was unclear last week if the regional representatives would be allowed to travel to the districts they were assisting.

The regional offices, which are scheduled to be moved Nov. 4, could be reinstated by the next state schools chief, given that Ms. Eastin cannot run for re-election, Mr. Aschwanden said. The GOP candidate, Katherine H. Smith, has pledged to restore the offices. Jack O'Connell, the Democratic candidate, says he'll study the issue. Mr. Aschwanden also said his group was mulling legal action. "This is a devastating blow to career-tech programs," he said.

—Joetta L. Sack

Vol. 22, Issue 9, Page 23

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