SDSU announces hiring of 44 Extension staffers for 8 regional centersIn the wake of state budget cuts, South Dakota moves from an Extension office in every county to eight regional centers in Aberdeen, Lemmon, Mitchell, Pierre, Rapid City, Sioux Falls, Watertown and Winner.
By: Chris Mueller, The Daily Republic
Officials at South Dakota State University announced Thursday they have hired 44 new field specialists to staff the eight regional centers for the newly restructured SDSU Extension program.
“This Friday marks the end of one era in SDSU Extension,” said Barry Dunn, the dean of SDSU’s College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences and director of SDSU Extension. “Next week, we welcome a new day.”
SDSU Extension provides expertise to South Dakota residents on topics such as agriculture and natural resources.
In years past, the program had offices and Extension agents in all of the state’s 66 counties to help farmers, gardeners and others seeking information.
The restructuring of the program from county offices into eight regional centers is a result of state government budget cuts.
SDSU Extension has lost 36 positions over the last three years because of budget cuts. Despite its shrinking size, Dunn said Extension is stronger than ever.
“We remain deeply committed to serving South Dakotans,” he said during a Thursday teleconference, “and in this new era, we will continue to provide them with the research and information they need.”
The eight new regional offices, located in Aberdeen, Lemmon, Mitchell, Pierre, Rapid City, Sioux Falls, Watertown and Winner, are scheduled to open Tuesday and will begin offering services immediately.
In addition to the new staff for the regional centers, 32 new positions for the Extension’s 4-H youth program are still in the process of being filled.
The 4-H youth program advisers will serve all 66 counties in South Dakota, although some counties have chosen to share one adviser to save on costs. SDSU Extension and South Dakota counties will share the cost of the advisers.
President of the 4-H Leaders Association Paula Hamilton said she firmly believes 4-H programming will continue to grow, and continue to provide opportunities for children to grow and learn.
SDSU Extension was authorized to hire 65 people to staff the eight regional centers, and it plans to continue hiring in the near future, with the possibility of adding two or three more positions to the five educators already hired to work at the regional center in Mitchell, said Associate Director of SDSU Extension Karla Trautman.
The search for a director who will oversee the operation of the eight regional centers is also in the works, Trautman said.
SDSU Extension is now requiring every Extension educator to hold a master’s degree, or earn one within five years.
Another recent change for the Extension is the development of iGrow, which gives access to Extension research and resources on the Internet.
Dunn said that during the restructuring, more attention was paid to enhancing how people can access information. He called the revamped program a new model for 21st century Extension.
“The South Dakota model and process will be considered as other states follow our footsteps,” Dunn said.
South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture Walt Bones was also on Thursday’s teleconference.
“The Extension has always been there,” Bones said. “Historically, they’ve been a very important partner.”
Agriculture is very different now than it was in the past, Bones said, and this restructuring is the best option to guarantee that Extension will continue.
Codington County Commissioner Myron Johnson gave reassurances that South Dakota residents will have access to Extension services no matter where they live.
“We expect field specialists to be out working in our counties,” Johnson said, “so even if you don’t have a regional center near you, field specialists will be able to offer their help statewide.”
The restructuring led to some difficult decisions regarding staff and resources.
“In managing under the new budget environment, SDSU Extension called on staff and stakeholders to help define what elements must be carried forward and what elements can be retired,” Dunn said.
Retirement was chosen by two of Davison County’s now former Extension educators, John Cairns and Ellyn Eddy.
“It seemed like it was a good time,” Cairns said Thursday, referring to his decision to retire.
The staff at the new Mitchell regional center includes Cow and Calf Field Specialists Jim Krantz and Heather Larson, 4-H Youth Livestock Field Specialist Megan Nielson, Family Resources Management Field Specialist Carrie Johnson and Economics Field Specialist Jack Davis.
Eddy was quick to stress her retirement had nothing to do with the restructuring of the Extension program and said it was a personal choice.
Both former educators spoke fondly of their time with Extension during a retirement party Thursday in their honor at the county fairgrounds.
The new regional office is at 821 N. Capital Street on Mitchell Technical Institute’s north campus.
“Every day, something you hadn’t seen came through the door,” Cairns said of his Extension experience. “It ends up that the educators are the ones that get educated the most.”
Eddy said although she will miss the people she worked with, she is looking forward to some time to herself and with her family.
Cairns said the public will have to wait and see if the restructured Extension will be as effective as it was before, but he thinks the plan has potential.
Dunn said Extension will continue to investigate new ways for the program to better serve the people of South Dakota.
“Change is in the air,” he said.
John Cairns (standing), former agronomy educator at the Davison County Extension office, talks with 4-H leaders Rod Muhs, left, and Peggy Greenway at an open house celebrating his retirement Thursday at the Davison County Fairgrounds just west of Mitchell.
Ellyn Eddy, family and consumer sciences educator for 20 years at the Davison County Extension office, smiles during her retirement party Thursday at the Davison County Fairgrounds near Mitchell. Eddy worked for Extension for 33 years.
Map courtesy of SDSU Extension
Under the newly reorganized Extension Service, there will only be eight regional Extension centers, but counties can hire a 4-H adviser and split the cost with the Extension Service. Some counties are sharing an adviser and splitting their share of the cost (indicated on this map by similar-shaded groupings of counties) and some counties are hiring an adviser to serve only their county. On this map, each 4-H emblem represents an adviser.