Area Extension offices to close

The Extension offices in Clay and Yankton counties and other southeastern counties will close this fall under restructuring announced Tuesday by the South Dakota Cooperative Extension Service.

Extension educators were informed Tuesday of the changes, which take effect Oct. 21, at a Brookings meeting. Reduction in force notices were issued to 99 Extension educators, who can apply for new jobs under the restructuring.

The decisions were made in the light of budget cuts, changing demographics and new technology, said Barry Dunn, director of the Extension Service at South Dakota State University. He also serves as dean of the SDSU College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences.

The state�s rapidly changing demographics � particularly an aging, shrinking population in the state�s rural areas � have changed the demand for Extension services, Dunn said.

�This is a very different state than it was 10 years ago, certainly 30 years ago or 97 years ago when the Cooperative Extension Service first came to South Dakota,� he said.

The restructuring plan calls for SDSU Extension to establish seven regional extension centers across the state. They will be staffed by extension field specialists, a new job classification that requires the minimum of a master�s degree. Field specialists will be administered by SDSU academic departments and offer statewide programming.

�This is a much healthier organization than we started from,� Dunn said. �We are starting from Ground Zero with a new organization and with new job requirements. We expect the best and brightest to apply for jobs.�

The new regional offices will be located in Aberdeen, Faith, Mitchell, Pierre, Rapid City, Sioux Falls and Watertown. In addition, SDSU Extension will continue to maintain federally recognized tribal extension programs in Eagle Butte, Mission and Porcupine.

The regional centers were chosen to reflect population, as well as regional traffic for business, trade and health care, shopping and banking. The communities were also selected to provide a statewide network of offices that is no more than approximately 75 miles from a majority of Extension�s audiences.

�These locations are within 75 miles of 95 percent of the farms, 96 percent of ag production, 92 percent of the communities, 97 percent of poverty level people and 98 percent of the youth in South Dakota,� Dunn said.

Extension educators will no longer be located in county Extension offices, and the position of educator will cease to exist. Current appointments for all county Extension educators will terminate Oct. 21 following the conclusion of the 4-H year, Achievement Days and State Fair.

Under the restructuring, 34 half-time employees will be hired as 4-H and youth specialists, Dunn said. This year�s 4-H programming, including Achievement Days and the State Fair, will not change, he said.

�We will go forward in 2012,� he said. �I think, with 34 half-time people, and seven field specialists, plus several thousand volunteers across South Dakota, there is no reason that we can�t have the same Achievement Days and State Fair in 2012 as in 2011. It�s up to us.�

SDSU officials will discuss details of the restructuring at public meetings across South Dakota, including Thursday from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Sioux Falls Ramkota Inn and from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Mitchell Public Library.

Other meetings could be arranged, Dunn said, by contacting him at (605) 688-4148 or by email at barry.dunn@sdstate.edu.

�The impact on the local offices will be determined to a large degree by the county commissions,� he said. �We are starting (Wednesday) to meet with groups of county commissioners across the state to explain the system.�

Dunn expects more emphasis and resources for demonstration plots and research activities. �I actually expect Extension to grow and our budget to grow with support from private entities who want to invest in South Dakota,� he said. �It�s a very different business model from the one that we have now. We can�t depend on state and federal support in the future. We have to become entrepreneurial and grow this budget.�

�We can�t shrink our way to success. That won�t work. We need to grow to serve South Dakota,� he added.

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