U Extension Service plans budget cuts

Liz Kohman

The University Extension Service redefined its mission and announced this week it will cut $4.5 million by 2004.

“No part of Extension Service is untouched by this,” said Jeanne Markell, assistant dean for the Extension Service.

The department, which currently offers programs in all of Minnesota’s 87 counties, announced the cuts Monday in an internally circulated report outlining operational changes.

“It’s not all doom and gloom; there’s some good stuff, too,” said Lee Raeth, North Central District director for the Extension Service.

In addition to program cuts and possible layoffs, the report
highlighted institutional changes, such as increasing technology-based outreach and replacing county departments with regional departments to allow employees with specialized skills to reach more people.

The Extension Service is funded primarily by federal and state sources that haven’t been adjusted for inflation.

As previously structured, the department was no longer financially sustainable because expenses rose and revenue remained the same, according to the internal report.

“Ninety percent of the budget is tied up in people,” Markell said. The department’s goal is to reduce payroll expenses to 75 percent, she said.

Markell said the department will not know the number of layoffs until midñFebruary, but University officials have estimated about 50 to 60 jobs will be lost.

The Extension Service currently employees approximately 260 people.

The plan also includes changing the type and number of services offered by the University.

Markell said the department will work with communities throughout the state to determine which services can be changed. Some extension programs might start charging service fees.

Regent Robert Bergland, who chairs the Regents Committee on Outreach, said the changes were necessary to allow the program to continue operations.

“We’d rather change Extension Service than abolish it,” he said. The regents will discuss University-wide outreach programs in a meeting next Wednesday.

Markell said while some employees are concerned about the cuts, they also hope the changes will revitalize the program.