Faced with about $5 million in spending cuts for the fiscal year that begins July 1, University of Illinois Extension, which provides instruction ranging from livestock judging to farm safety to cooking and gardening classes, is facing a major reorganization that could include county office closings or consolidations and layoffs.
The first issue of this planting season’s “The Bulletin,” put together by University of Illinois Extension specialists in crop sciences, was released Thursday.
But you’ve got to go online to get it. For the first time ever, The Bulletin, which delivers the latest Extension news to farmers and industry representatives, will be available via the Internet only.
Faced with about $5 million in spending cuts for the fiscal year that begins July 1, U of I Extension, which also is home to youth 4-H programs, says it can no longer afford to print and mail paper copies of the publication.
Extension, which provides instruction ranging from livestock judging to farm safety to cooking and gardening classes, is hosting a series of hearings statewide to get public input on what will probably be a substantial reorganization, one that could include county office closings or consolidations and layoffs, said Bob Hoeft, Extension’s interim director.
The result would be that while classes would still be offered, participants, many in rural areas, might have to travel a lot farther to get to them.
“We just don’t know how much we’re short, exactly,” Hoeft said, citing a potential deficit of $4 million to $7 million at the March 9 hearing in Springfield.
Youths such as Isabella Graff, 14, of Middletown, who attends classes in Springfield, are among those who could be affected.
Graff has been showing cattle for seven years and is in her fourth year with the Sangamon-Menard Extension Unit’s livestock-judging program, which teaches youths to evaluate the quality of animals based on show or meat quality.
“It’s supposed to help when you’re picking a herd because you want to know which cows are better,” she said. “Livestock judging helps you with that. I’ve learned to be a better judge, which cattle to keep and which cattle to sell.”
Robert “Woody” Woodruff, 4-H program coordinator for the Sangamon-Menard Unit, said he’s confident the programs offered locally won’t be among those cut.
“We’re in the state capital, and it kind of has an aura to it,” he said. “If this place isn’t going to have it, then probably no place else is going to have it. We’re very fortunate to be in the capital.”
Another of the teens participating in the class at the Extension building on the Illinois State Fairgrounds, Jared Whitcomb, 18, of Greenview, said he’s been around sheep since he was a baby.
The Extension instruction has been a huge help and one that will make him better equipped for college, he said.
“It helps you evaluate livestock better and helps you be able to socialize and take on responsibilities,” Whitcomb said. “Hopefully, this helps me go through college, because I plan on livestock judging in college.”
Personnel biggest expense
Extension is part of the federal land-grant university system, a 90-year-old tradition of connecting citizens with the University of Illinois by providing educational programs to improve their quality of life. Extension educational programming is offered in all of the state’s 102 counties.
Communities are directly served by Extension staff members in 77 unit offices, while Extension educators in 12 centers across the state and specialists on the U of I campus develop and deliver in-depth programming locally, in regional venues and through distance-learning technologies.
About 70 percent of Extension’s $65 million budget — which supports 800 employees in 2009 — goes to personnel. Another 10 percent is spent to rent facilities, Hoeft said.
“For every million dollars in rent that we cut, we save 15 people’s jobs,” he said. “That’s what I want. I want to keep as many people out there as we can.”
Diane Duewer, county director for the Sangamon-Menard Extension Unit, said she has no idea what cuts, if any, will be made to the local office. Much of that uncertainty stems from not knowing how much locally generated funding the state will match, she said.
The Legislature appropriates funding called a county board match, she said. For every dollar collected locally to support Extension, the General Assembly determines a percentage to match.
“In a good year, it was 100 percent match. But last year, it was about 82 or 85 percent,” Duewer said.
Matt Montgomery, director of the Mason County Extension office in Havana, stressed the importance of taking positive reorganization steps.
“The state is in a real financial crunch, and we’re trying to find a way to survive in that,” he said. “It’s better to make those changes now than after the fact.”
Montgomery said he hopes a formal plan will be drafted within the next few weeks but was not aware of a specific timetable. He added that he didn’t want to speculate about potential effects on Mason County until a plan is in place.
Office closings likely
Statewide, there are several options when it comes to making up a $5 million shortfall.
Downsizing county offices is one option, and combining county administration and programs is another, Hoeft said.
“We’re going to close some centers as soon as we can,” he said. “People are concerned if they don’t have it in their own county. Sangamon and Menard have been combined for quite some time, so it’s not a matter of losing your county, but making your county bigger.”
The ideal county combination is three per unit, he said.
Duewer said many Extension programs are run by volunteers, so cuts probably would be made in administrative staffing, such as her own position. If more counties are combined, those working within them will be spread thinner, she said.
“The county director would have more responsibilities, servicing another county or two counties or three counties,” Duewer said. “If a unit has several counties involved and they have two or three educators, those people would have to travel from county to county to provide programming.”
State Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, said he hopes Gov. Pat Quinn will rethink cuts proposed for state agencies, including Extension.
“We can only hope and encourage him not to make the drastic cuts,” Bomke said. “I realize he has a difficult decision when you have a $13 billion deficit. I’m disappointed there have to be cuts, but at the same time I recognize the governor has some very difficult decisions to make.”
Woodruff said he would be shocked if a volunteer-driven program such as livestock judging is eliminated, noting that it helps children learn about public speaking as well as judging livestock. It’s also a stepping stone from high school livestock judging to doing so at a collegiate level.
“The nice thing about the livestock judging and the way it’s set up … (the staff are) volunteers and they oversee the kids,” Woodruff said. “As long as there’s an Extension or a land-grant university willing to house 4-H, we’ll have this program.”
What Extension does
University of Illinois Extension offers educational programs in five broad areas:
- Healthy society
- Food security and safety
- Environmental stewardship
- Sustainable and profitable food production and marketing systems
- Enhancing youth, family and community well-being
While most Extension programs are offered on an informal, non-credit basis, U of I Extension does offer continuing education credits in some fields of study. Extension programs may be offered as hands-on workshops, field days, self-paced tutorials via the Web, or in other formats that are suitable for the audience and subject matter.
Source: University of Illinois Extension
Extension by the numbers
- $65 million budget
- About $45 million spent on personnel
- About $5 million spent on rent
- $5 million shortfall projected for upcoming year
- 800 employees supported by Extension in 2009
- More than 2-1/2 million Illinoisans take part in Extension programs each year
- Nearly 300,000 people involved in 4-H annually
- More than 10 million page views monthly on Extension Web pages
- 77 unit offices and 12 Extension centers across the state
To get The Bulletin
The Bulletin will consist of 25 issues in 2010. The first was delivered Thursday. Issue 2 will be available April 8 and issue 3 on April 22. After this, it will be published weekly until Aug. 12.
To subscribe, go to http://ipm.illinois.edu/bulletin/subscribe.html.
For more information, go to http://ipm.illinois.edu/bulletin/, or contact Vince Davis, U of I Extension soybean specialist and editor of The Bulletin, at 217-244-7497 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information
Information on the Sangamon-Menard Extension Unit can be found at:
2501 N. Eighth St., Illinois State Fairgrounds, Building 30, (217) 782-4617
P.O. Box 138, Petersburg, (217) 632-7491
The State Journal Register