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Face of ISU Extension changing

By Staff | May 8, 2009

ThIS map shows the 20 new Extension regions that will be created, each headed by a single regional director. The new plans will be implemented around July 2010. Counties were grouped by total population and similar tax levies.

Iowa’s 99 Extension office staffs knew that changes were coming due to budget cuts, but at 7.a.m. Thursday, they learned just how deep the cuts would be during a statewide Web cast.

Jack Payne, Iowa State University’s vice president of Extension and Outreach, said that in an effort to cut $1.84 million in administrative costs statewide, the 97 county directors’ positions, plus five area directors will be reduced to 20 regional director posts.

All of Iowa’s Extension offices, will remain open, but they will be reassigned to 20 regional groups numbering anywhere from three to nine counties per group. These and other changes will go into effect on July 1, 2010.

Payne said that in the current fiscal year, Iowa’s Extension offices paid $4 million to support ISU Extension staff. “But (in 2010) I’m returning $3.5 million of it.” He said those funds will be available to Extension offices to fund their own local programs.”

County offices will continue to pay ISU two percent of their tax levies, roughly $500,000 statewide, which will cover T1 internet services and other access to research databases at ISU.

Although the news would affect each county director’s livelihood, the overall attitude among directors was that Extension’s reorganization was headed in the right direction.

“It was pretty obvious that Extension needed a change,” said Jim Patton, director of the Webster County office. “And rather than making changes piecemeal, it’s better to make them wholesale.”

Webster County will be grouped into region 7, along with the counties of Humboldt, Wright and Hamilton. Patton said the changes would make more funds available for local programming.

Calhoun County will be assigned to region 6 along with the counties of Sac, Ida, Cherokee, Buena Vista and Pocahontas.

Jerry Chisek, director of the Calhoun County office, said the changes were necessary.

“If anyone is taking this personally, they shouldn’t,” he said. “It’s just a reflection of the economy. We aren’t the only ones going through this.” He said county directors could either apply for a regional job, look for other ways to fit in with their region’s Extension services, or opt for an early retirement package being offered.

“We pride ourselves in being change agents,” Chisek said of the overall Extension organization. “This is our chance to demonstrate that ability.

In Wright County, crops field specialist John Holmes serves as the acting county director. Noting that the county is already accustomed to being without a permanent director, he added that he and the county council “are hoping that we’ll be able to serve Wright County effectively. We’ll be focused more on issues than on geography.”

ISU’s Payne explained that Extension was experiencing difficulty in addressing new issues “because we were stuck in infrastructure,” that is, so focused on county needs it was slow to react to new issues.

Tony Janssen, director of O’Brien and Osceola County offices, will watch as his charges will be grouped into region 1, along with the counties of Lyon, Sioux, Dickinson and Clay.

“Things are still unfolding, Janssen said Thursday afternoon, when asked how the reorganization will affect the northwest corner of Iowa. “We’ll still have individual offices in each county, it’s just how (counties) will be served that will change.”

Field specialists will not be affected, Payne said. “They are still the ones who deliver the programs.”

Payne said he knew the state legislature was going to cut Regents schools’ budgets, including ISU’s, and started the process of reorganization two months ago. After six weeks of holding regional “listening stations” designed to get advice from county-level staff members, the plan, as outlined Thursday morning, was developed.

Payne said he is planning to hold a series of meetings in each of the 20 new regions during May, gathering Extension staff, county councils and the general public to explain the changes and how Extension services will be delivered starting next summer.

“We’re not going away,” said Wright County’s Holmes. “As a crops field specialist, my first client is still the farmer.”

Contact Larry Kershner by e-mail at kersh@farm-news.com

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