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FARMINGTON — Farmington Municipal School District officials said funding the district's Financial Aid and College Entrance program beyond the $1 million donation commitment from the Merrion Family Foundation is a top priority.

Members of the Farmington schools Board of Education heard a presentation from Merrion Oil and Gas Co. representatives Thursday about the district's Financial Aid and College Entrance, or FACE, program and the desire for the district to assist in funding the program.

Chairman T. Greg Merrion and investment manager George Sharpe spoke during the board meeting, giving a presentation about the success of the program before challenging the school board members and district officials to keep the program alive.

"This program has really exceeded our expectations," Merrion said.

The FACE program was started in 2011, placing counselors at Farmington and Piedra Vista high schools whose job it is to provide resources and help students with the college application process.

Superintendent Gene Schmidt said the program is a top priority for the district and accepted the challenge to keep the program operating.

"When you take $148,000 in salaries for different people and leverage it in $15 million, it has to be toward the top," Schmidt said following the meeting. "This is the model that should be exported everywhere."

The annual budget for the program is about $148,000, according to Sharpe.

Sharpe said the amount of scholarship money awarded to FHS and PV students has increased from a little more than $1.6 million in 2011 to more than $15.5 million in 2015.

The percentage of students accepted to colleges increased from 65 percent before the program to 88 percent in 2012 and to 94 percent this year.

"We think that's a pretty amazing percentage," Sharpe said.

Sharpe said the oil foundation has donated $710,000 so far and is committed to donating the remaining $290,000 in the next two and a half years.

The BP American Production Company has also donated $150,000 to the FACE program, which has helped pay for the counselors' assistants, according to Sharpe.

The funds are donated to the nonprofit San Juan College Foundation, which distributes the money to the district.

Board Secretary Robyn Hoffman said the program is extremely important, and the school board is committed to funding it. She said she liked the idea of possibly incorporating the program's costs into the district's budget over the next few years.

Schmidt said during the meeting he has started speaking to groups, including a Farmington Kiwanis club, about seeking additional community funding for the program.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 and jkellogg@daily-times.com. Follow him @jkelloggdt on Twitter.

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