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Extension Service changes are coming

By Mychal Wilmes

Agri News

Extension Service educators in Olmsted County and across Minnesota will soon learn how their careers will be affected by the University of Minnesota's decision to revamp the 90-year-old service.

Extension Service dean and director Charles Casey expects to announce details of a plan to cut $4.5 million from the agency's budget and eliminate 60 Extension educator jobs within two weeks.

Casey was in Rochester on Thursday to talk with Olmsted County commissioners, Extension Council members and Extension Service employees. It was the last of 14 meetings conducted across the state to gather ideas concerning the agency's future.

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An outline of the plan indicates Extension Service educators will be responsible for a wider geographical area, will be more specialized and will have closer ties to on-campus researchers.

"This has been a difficult process for us," Casey said. "It is hard on our educators. We hope that within a couple of weeks we will be able to make some final decisions about the number of reductions that we will have had to make and the reassignments for current staff."

The university's proposal to revamp the service, which is funded by the state and federal governments, has drawn fire from some rural lawmakers who say the university is turning its back on rural Minnesota.

Casey disagrees. If nothing was done to change the service, he said, the agency would face up to a $5 million annual budget shortfall by 2005.

University President Mark Yudof asked the Extension Service to generate more revenue, suggesting the service charge participation fees. Extension also wants to make more use of the Internet, Casey said. The Extension Service Web site has become popular, and there's potential for growth, he said.

Even without a budget crisis, Casey said, the Extension Service needs to be revamped to better serve customers.

Rural Minnesota is rapidly changing, he said, and the university must change with it. Minorities have come to work in rural Minnesota's dairy and turkey operations, he said, and there have been dramatic changes in agriculture's structure and in rural communities.

Agri News is a weekly farm newspaper published by the Post-Bulletin Co. LLC.

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