Bladen County Board of Education supports expanding ag program at East Bladen

By: By Chrysta Carroll -

ELIZABETHTOWN — Some East Bladen students want to add a building on campus, in the hopes of cultivating some future farmers.

At Monday’s Board of Education meeting, East Bladen Ag Teacher Earl Miller, along with ag students Olivia Barnes and Camille Campbell, appeared before to the board to request a letter of support for their project. The team is applying for the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Grant Program, an application two years in the making.

“We’ve been discussing the need for better facilities at East Bladen,” Miller told the board. “Every year, there are 60,000 openings for ag professionals, and only 30,000 people to fill the openings. The average starting salary for these positions is $45,000 right out of college with a bachelor of science degree.

“Rural America is not dying — it’s changing,” he added. “It’s only getting bigger, and we need to address the need.”

Barnes and Campbell addressed the board, showing members photos of buildings in other school districts with similar programs. According to Campbell, expanding the ag program would allow additional classes, including several honors classes, and would enable the horticulture department to have small animals on site. Students would be responsible for care of the animals and would utilize the facility for regional competitions.

The building comes with a price tag of between $200,000 and $250,000, and Miller said the grant usually pays around $225,000. Superintendent Robert Taylor informed the board costs could be cut by, for example, borrowing plans from other school districts rather than paying to have plans created.

“This is a great opportunity for the students,” he said.

“I think we can do a letter of support,” offered board member Alan West, receiving agreement from the rest of the board.

In other business, the board:

— Heard an update on the new N.C. Star accountability program being utilized by six Bladen County schools. Asst. Supt. Tanya Head pointed out to the board the spike in activity seen by the schools already implementing the program and said all schools will be transitioning to the new program in the 2017-18 school year.

— Approved the 2017-18 calendar, which will have 1,020 hours spread over 179 days. District staff were allowed to vote between two calendars and, according to Head, “overwhelmingly” chose the calendar presented to board members. The board approved the plan.

The next meeting of the Board of Education will be Monday, March 13, at 6 p.m. at the Central Office.

Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.

By Chrysta Carroll