Recent changes to the University’s Extension Service have some state legislators concerned about the path Extension Service is taking.
Rep. Bob Ness, R-Dassel, said that in the last month, 25 Extension Service employees received pink slips, 12 accepted retirement packages and 11 are leaving due to attrition.
In addition, Extension Service officials sent reassignment letters to workers throughout Extension Service’s seven state districts.
Kay Stanek, West Central District Extension Service director, said March 4 is the deadline for people to accept or reject reassignments.
“It will become much clearer after March 4 and after we’ve had a chance to assess who’s on staff,” Stanek said. “We’re at a time now where people are making decisions, and we need to respect that.”
As talk of cuts and reassignments continue, many Extension Service employees await uncertain futures.
“At some point the University has to make tough decisions,” said Sen. Tony Kinkel, DFL-Park Rapids. “It’s always difficult to accept cuts.”
University Extension Service officials have been busy at the state Capitol this week, briefing legislators about their plan to cut $4.5 million by 2004 and discussing the subsequent effect on state programs. Some legislators are concerned about Extension’s commitment to rural residents.
Throughout the legislative session, discussion has surfaced concerning 4-H and the suggestion to charge fees for participants.
“I’m real concerned anytime we think about revamping something that has been very beneficial to rural Minnesota,” said Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth.
Dale Blyth, assistant dean of the Extension Service and director of the Center for 4-H Youth Development, said no decision has been made requiring Minnesota’s 260,000 4-H participants to pay a fee.
“We’re looking at charging as a way of enhancing the program,” Blyth said.
He also said the fee would not be used to make up for deficits.
Ness authored a bill to modify the mission statement of Extension Service programs aimed specifically at rural residents.
“The focus of his bill is to assure that 4-H programs remain vital and strong,” Marquart said. “I think a lot of it is not knowing exactly what’s going to be the outcome. We certainly don’t want to lose something good that we have right now.”
Whether it’s losing a job, a co-worker or a work location, Extension Service employees will see changes in the road ahead.
“This is clearly a difficult time, when you have to make decisions about staff members. But with the challenge comes opportunity,” Blyth said.
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