Extension considers fees for 4-H

Extension Service employees and 4-H officials met this spring to address the proposal.

Nathan Halverson

A proposal to charge fees to participants in 4-H, a University-sponsored program for children and youth, has some parents and educators concerned.

A committee of Extension Service employees and 4-H officials assembled this spring to address fees for 4-H made the proposal to Extension Service Administrators last week. The 4-H program is a division of the University’s Extension Service.

“If there had been a fee when my five children attended the program, I don’t know if we would’ve been able to stick with it because of budget issues,” said Linda Schmiesing, who was attending the Stearns County Fair on Thursday. The county’s 4-H program had filled a barn with children’s exhibits. “For me, 4-H is the only part of the fair.”

The 4-H program offers clubs and activities such as woodshop, musicals and livestock showing. In 2002, 168,000 Minnesota children and youth participated in 4-H programs.

Adding 4-H fees is not the only change to the Extension Service, which disseminates research information to citizens.

The University announced last month it is eliminating funding for offices in all 87 Minnesota counties. Last week, the service announced which 18 cities will receive regional offices, planned to be open by 2004.

The state reduced funding to the Extension Service by 10 percent for the fiscal year that started July 1. This reduction follows a $4.5 million cut in 2001 from the Extension Service’s then $65 million budget.

Counties, which contributed 26 percent of the Extension Service’s budget in 2002, are also expected to take a sharp cut in state funding, Extension Service Dean Charles Casey said.

Casey said they have not made a decision regarding fees. If fees are implemented, he said, the proceeds will be split between the state and counties. The counties will use the money for their local clubs, and the state will use its portion to put into regional programs, he said.

“It has been a great opportunity,” said 17-year-old Alena Hiemenz, a member of the Poultry Knowledge Bowl, which is a 4-H club that competes against other counties’ teams. “It prepares you for a lot of things that will happen in the future.”

This year Hiemenz – who has participated in 4-H programs for 11 years – was Stearns County grand champion in rooster showing and can now advance to the State Fair competition.

New Extension structure

The new Extension Service structure is designed to work with counties’ shrinking budgets, Casey said.

Counties will now be able to choose which programs they want and can afford, rather than paying the Extension Service for a package of services.

“We know counties will have to make some reductions,” Casey said.

The state will notify counties in September of how much state funding they will receive. At that point, most counties will decide whether to keep their offices open, Casey said.

Counties can choose to retain an office in their areas if they want to pay for them. Then they can also contract to have an educator, such as a 4-H coordinator or a crop-growth specialist, assigned to their county.

Extension Service educators had been assigned to a specific county, but due to cuts in 2001, the service reallocated educators to regional positions.

Doug Holen, a regional Extension Service educator in northwest Minnesota specializing in crop production, said there are benefits to the new structure.

Holen was assigned to Otter Tail County before the 2001 cuts forced him to cover multiple counties. Under the new system, the only questions he has to answer are about his specialty: crop production.

“It’s a better setup in my mind because I can help with what I know best,” he said.

Before he was asked questions such as how to rid a house of spiders, what to do about property damaged by woodpeckers and the most effective methods to combat lawn grubs, he said.

His job is not guaranteed next year. All extension educators will have to reapply for the regional educators positions, Casey said.

“None of us know if we have jobs there or not,” said Harlan Orsendahl, a regional extension educator who has worked for the Extension Service for 18 years. “A lot of people are frustrated.”

But he said people are also excited by the new opportunities the restructuring will provide.

Holen agreed, saying there are a lot of good jobs in the Extension Service program.

“I hope I get one of them.”

Nathan Halverson welcomes comments at [email protected]