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Durgan planning Extension's future

Extension dean and director Bev Durgan has been attending a lot of retirement parties of late.

Extension dean and director Bev Durgan has been attending a lot of retirement parties of late.

From May until the middle of January, Extension will see a 10 percent reduction in its workforce.

Most of those who are retiring took advantage of an early retirement incentive offered through the University of Minnesota. Many have been with Extension for 30 to 40 years.

Faculty and staff from all program areas, including: Agriculture, natural resources, youth, family development and civic engagement retired. Almost half - 45 percent - of the staff in the family development program area will retire.

The retirements are a cost-cutting measure. Extension is funded through the ag state special. The state provides 42 percent of Extension funding and 18 percent comes from the federal government. County governments contribute 20 percent. Gifts, grants and contracts provide another 20 percent.

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Extension received a 5.8 percent cut in its overall budget because of less state funding during the last legislative session. The U of M also received less state funding.

Durgan decided to close two regional offices, those in Hutchinson and Fergus Falls, to reduce costs and allow Extension to keep more people.

That brings the number of regional offices to 14. These offices will close by the end of the year.

Educators in those offices are relocating. Some will work under a flexible arrangement, which will allow them to work out of their homes for a brief time.

Everybody knows which office they are going to, Durgan said. All staff were offered positions, but a couple opted to take a layoff instead.

Extension is going to have a new presence in Willmar on the MinnWest campus. Buildings in that area, a former state hospital, are being renovated and Extension was asked to have a presence on the campus with the university. The U of M College of Veterinary Medicine and the College of Continuing Education also will be there, Durgan said.

She doesn't know how many people Extension will have at the location, but it will be referred to as a regional office, bringing the number of regional offices up to 15.

Extension wouldn't have opened a stand-alone office in Willmar, Durgan said, but co-locating fits with her principle of being at other U of M facilities. The space will have a conference room and meeting room facilities. It will be wired for interactive meetings via interactive TV. One of the four regional directors to be hired will be based in Willmar.

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Several regional directors retired and four will be replaced. There will be 10 regional directors going forward, Durgan said. Directors will be housed in Crookston, Moorhead, Brainerd, St. Cloud, Rochester, Mankato and Worthington.

One director is being hired for the metro area and will be located at either Farmington or Andover. The director based in Willmar will also have responsibilities at Marshall. Grand Rapids and Cloquet will share a director.

In addition to celebrating the Extension employees who are retiring, Durgan is developing a plan of what Extension will look like going forward. The hires made now will shape Extension for the next three decades or more, she said. Extension tends to be a place where people come, like it and stay.

She is working with program leaders to develop a list of critical positions. Ten educator positions will be filled fairly quickly across the state. Any county educator who retired will be replaced right away, Durgan said.

The next step is to look at making future investments.

She will meet with associate deans, talk to partners in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Science, the College of Education and Human Development, the College of Veterinary Medicine, the College of Design and the Humphrey Institute. She'll also visit with other partners, including North Dakota State University, University of

Minnesota-Crookston and University of Minnesota-Duluth, with whom Extension has joint faculty. She's also in conversations with commodity groups about them funding positions.

Memorandums of agreement continue to be signed at the county level.

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Durgan said a large percentage are completed for this year and most of them have contributed a constant amount for Extension services in their county.

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