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ISU extension downsizes to save dollars

By Staff | Jun 5, 2009

(Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series that takes a look at the restructuring of Iowa State University Extension Service across the state.)

When Jack Payne became vice president of extension and outreach three years ago, he toured Iowa and heard what Iowans had to say. Here is his summarization of that experience: “At every stop and turn, we asked about extension’s relevance in today’s world and we were told that we were certainly relevant, but need to do more. The challenge will be to teach more people with extension’s services within budgets that are shrinking. That will mean looking at our delivery systems and finding new ways to communicate through technology.”

Due to the downward economy, Payne and his extension staff at ISU believe adjustments are necessary. Streamlining the organization will make the best use of available resources. The hope is that critical needs of every Iowan will continue to be met by the repositioned staff and will continue to include university research.

The restructuring includes:

n Increasing local control of county property taxes allocated for extension in each county.

n Engaging in research and staff across discipline to address complex issues.

n Reducing extension administrative costs. Payne’s staff believes a 10.7 percent budget cut will be realized by moving from a geographically based structure to an issues-based model. This change prompts a realignment of extension priorities and a reduction in the number of university-paid staff. The outcome also will give counties more options on local program priorities and staffing.

The extension legacy of providing partnerships and research-based learning to improve the quality of life for Iowans is to be unscathed by the budget-cutting ax. Those who are in charge in Ames acknowledge the extension service will undergo a drastic realignment. It is their hope the new structure will parallel issues-based initiatives at the local and state levels.

The vision includes more local control by:

n Dissolving the current partnership agreement between ISU and county extension councils. This ultimately means the partnership fee will not be paid to ISU any longer. Instead, these dollars will go into local program/staff investment. The option is there for several counties to pool their resources and hire staff collectively. This would allow county extension councils to apply county tax dollars directly to priority local programming needs.

n Formulating a new memorandum of understanding to define ISU’s and county councils’ investment in the partnership.

n Requiring county extension councils to pay an access fee of about 2 percent of the maximum property tax levy for all Iowa Extension Districts, to cover additional system-wide support services. This was compared to a type of franchise fee a business would be required to pay.

n Creating specific programming at the county level to fit a certain need. Any of the counties could singly or in partnership with other counties target a specific local need, i.e., family nutrition or leadership development. Together, they would hire an ISU program specialist to coordinate the programs addressing the specific topic. The specialist has access to all research and cross-discipline support.

n Using more technology to deliver information in the most effective, efficient manner possible.

ISU Extension hopes to reduce administrative costs by:

n Eliminating all county extension education director and area extension education director positions. The five area offices would close.

n Creating 20 extension regions immediately. The identified regions balance population and available county tax funds. Each region would honor coalitions and linkages between counties.

n Creating regional education director positions. This individual would serve as the link between the identifiable local needs and the ISU knowledge base. The director’s office would be located in an existing county office.

n Establishing a director of field operations position. This individual will supervise the regional directors and make sure that all state laws and university policies are being followed to the letter. It will be part of the job to oversee the delivery of statewide projects, and build positive relationships as an ISU Extension representative.