Wednesday, June 10th, 2009
By William Kincaid
Citizens back FFA teacher
  FORT RECOVERY - Many parents and students are upset about the board of education's plan to reduce vo-ag teacher and FFA instructor Michael Gower's pay by 18 percent.
Well over a hundred people came to the board meeting on Tuesday night in a show of solidarity for Gower, with many urging board members to reconsider proposed hour reductions.
Because of the overwhelming turnout, the public comment section of the meeting was moved to the high school commons.
For nearly an hour, board members listened to adults and FFA students - both current and past, dressed in their organization's uniforms and T-shirts - praise the work of Gower, whom many said lives and breathes for his students.
Superintendent David Riel said the board is considering reducing Gower from eight periods to seven periods.
"We would still offer every single course. He would still have all of his extended days," Riel told the newspaper this morning. "The board wishes people had all of the accurate information."
Riel said he believes many of the people who showed up on Tuesday night were under the impression that there would be cuts to the FFA program, which he said is not the case.
As the board continues to look for budget cuts, they looked at teachers with multiple non-instructional periods.
Next school year, Gower was scheduled to have three non-instructional periods - study hall monitor, cafeteria monitor and conference period, according to Riel.
"The board has to make difficult financial decisions ... the proposed (cut) would not affect the FFA program or the ag program in any way."
In recent years, the board has cut a bus driver and two bus routes, has not replaced teachers who have retired and offered a severance package to entice eligible teachers to resign or retire.
"It sickens them to have to do that," Riel said about board members looking for ways to reduce spending and be good fiscal managers of public money. "We have turned over every stone to look for ways to cut our expenses."
On Tuesday night one woman, who said her children were in the FFA program in the '90s, said the community was saddened and disappointed in the proposed cuts to Gower's periods, and ultimately the FFA.
Both honor students and average students learn vocational skills and earn FFA degrees through the tireless energy of Gower, she said.
"These are learned skills. These are life skills," the woman said.
FFA provides students, many who are not in athletics, with a niche to excel. Through the leadership and generosity of Gower, the FFA is the strongest program in the area and needs two full-time employees, she said.
Other adults boasted of their children's later success in life is the direct result of Gower's dedication.
"Mr. Gower and Mr. (Joe ) Hawk have not let us down, let's not let them down," another woman said.
A former FFA student who is studying to become a teacher said she transformed from a shy, introverted girl to a well-spoken and confident woman.
Another woman said she understands there are financial problems but asked why the proposed cut was in one area and not spread evenly throughout the school.
"We don't take a perfect program and drop it for no reason," she said.
A Fort Recovery man who said he dropped out of high school when he was 16 wondered what could have happened if he would have had FFA teachers like Gower when he was in school.
"I was a failure," he said.
But he said his son not only graduated, but received awards because of Gower's presence in his life.
"You guys don't have a clue," he said about the amount of time Gower spends with his students, adding that Fort Recovery's organization is the Rolls Royce of the FFA .
"We certainly applaud you guys for coming," Board president Jack Staugler said
Staugler said the large crowd was intimidating but good, as it shows how impassioned Fort Recovery is about its children.
"The board would agree with everything that was said," Riel told the newspaper. "We have the finest FFA program around.
Part of the credit for such a great program should go to Gower, Riel said.
And part of it should go to board members who have funded it and compensated Gower and Hawk for all of their work, including extended days, Riel said.
"They are compensated very well for the work that they do," Riel said.
No action was taken on Tuesday night.
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