CORVALLIS - The Oregon State University Extension Service, which delivers educational information across Oregon that underpins the economy, environmental protection and community health efforts, is wrestling with the possibility of a sizeable reduction in its workforce.
The reduction would leave the outreach arm of OSU about 40 percent smaller by 2005 than it was at the start of the current 2001-03 state funding biennium. "Extension is in an extremely challenging financial situation," said Lyla Houglum, dean and director of the organization. "The main reasons are an anticipated reduction in state funding because state revenues are down sharply, and increased mandated operating costs.
"Our state budget for the 2003-05 biennium may not be finalized until late summer, but we need to be proactive and plan for anticipated cuts," said Houglum. "All indications are that Extension may be smaller and therefore many educational services that Oregonians value won't be available. The goal of the planning process we've initiated is to assure maximum quality program delivery with the resources that are available."
The Extension Service's outside-the-classroom educational efforts focus on areas such as agriculture, forestry, fishing, families, community development and 4-H youth development. Extension is supported primarily by state, federal and county funds and has offices in every county in the state.
An Extension Service staffing plan under development is aimed at outlining how the organization would do its work if its funding dropped to the governor's proposed budget minus 10 percent. Some forecast that this will be roughly Extension's state funding level for the 2003-05 biennium, which starts July 1.
The first draft of the proposed staffing plan was developed with input from individual Oregonians and representatives of industries and organizations around the state.
There may be more regional programming, Houglum said, but Extension plans to maintain an office in every county that provides adequate fiscal support for a county Extension office.
"We're going to gather input on the proposed plan from our citizen advisers, and from our faculty and staff, during the last couple of weeks in April," Houglum said. "Then we'll refine the plan. We won't know if additional changes will need to be made until we know what our state budget is going to be."
"Extension may not look the same in the future," Houglum added, "but we're going to keep making important contributions to the state within the resources that are available."
Examples of those contributions cited by Houglum include:
- The Extension Service supports natural resource-based industries, which have an estimated annual value of more than $24 billion;
- The 4-H and family programs help individuals realize greater potential and success;
- About 30,000 citizen volunteers annually magnify the impact of work the Extension Service does around Oregon;
- In the 2001-03 biennium, the Extension Service used about $35 million in state funds to "leverage" about $48 million in partnership and grant funds that addressed Oregon issues;
" Each year Extension Service personnel, and the educational materials they produce, help more than a million Oregonians solve problems, contribute to the economy and learn new skills.