Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Iowa State cuts Extension and a local editor howls; some other states also cutting it due to recession

Iowa State University's plan to cut the number of county extension directors in Iowa by more than 75 percent is bringing protests in rural counties that have depended on the Cooperative Extension Service.

University President Gregory Geoffroy "presented a previously unannounced plan to the Iowa Board of Regents ... without public input and just hours after the Legislature adjourned," writes Jay Howe, field editor of the Adair County Free Press. "Surprisingly, the regents OK'd the restructuring plan as a done deal without taking opportunity to gauge public views on it. Is this a model of how ISU Extension has sought to foster the process of engaging the public in making serious public-policy decisions?"

Howe's column also appeared in The Des Moines Register, which reported, "There will be 20 regional directors and one supervisor. Currently, there are 97 county directors and five regional directors. The reorganization and program cuts would reduce Extension's $100 million annual budget by about $4.3 million, officials said." Jack Payne, vice president for extension and outreach, told the Register's Erin Jordan, "It's a structure that is 100 years old that we cannot support anymore with the budget cut" from the Legislature. (Register map shows new extension regions, with county lines in white.)

Regent Michael Gartner, former editor of the Register and other papers, asked why more director positions weren't cut. Geoffroy said, "We did consider going to 10 directors, but decided that would be too much territory to cover." He said each director would oversee an average of about five counties and spend about a day a week in each county.

Minnesota made similar changes five years ago, and other states are doing likewise as the recession forces states and universitis to cut budgets. Ralph Otto, an associate extension administrator in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told teh Register, "I hope that we survive this and come out more resilient than before. I say that with a certain amount of emptiness, because it doesn't help the folks right now who are having to do so much." (Read more) For the university's detailed explanation of its budget-cutting plan, click here.

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