Extension restructuringPublished 10:38am Friday, March 5, 2010
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
CASSOPOLIS – Michigan State University Extension is undergoing a statewide restructuring that attempts to reduce administrative overhead while refocusing its mission to make it more responsive at the grassroots level. Across Michigan, 91 administrative positions will be reduced to 17.
Cass County Director Dan Rajzer referred to them as “displaced” people. “There aren’t going to be any layoffs. The organization is going to try to absorb us in some way, shape or form.”
Still in the discussion stage, the retooled Extension would recast the Cass office as a “partner” rather than a county department.
All 82 county directors, including Rajzer, who has held that title the past 15 years, will be reassigned to educational roles.
“A number of rumors have gone around the last couple of years that Extension is obsolete, not in tune with what’s going on in the communities and no longer needed,” Rajzer addressed the Cass County Board of Commissioners Thursday night. Rajzer sought to dispel one such rumor, that Extension will no longer be present in each county.
Cass County is proposed to leave a 17-county region to join District 13, a seven-county alliance with Berrien, Van Buren, Calhoun, St. Joseph and Branch and Kalamazoo.
There will be a new district coordinator.
Current regional director Don Lehman applied for a position in a different location.
His position is to be dissolved June 30.
In 2003, Lehman was appointed Extension director for Montcalm County, a position he held until he started his current job on June 1, 2008. He was the keynote speaker at the 2009 4-H banquet in Cassopolis last March.
Rajzer serves on the committee determining where to base District 13.
Each of the seven counties has been evaluated, from central location and space availability to Internet capacity restrictions.
Berrien County facilities rank high, but it is not centrally located, leaving Cass, St. Joseph and Van Buren as logically in contention.
“We want to be more innovative than in the past, more responsive and more specialized” Rajzer said. “Michigan is going through a lot of changes and our economy is not going to return to the way it was.”
Rajzer said Extension taps into different MSU colleges, primarily agriculture, forestry and natural resources. But there are other colleges which could be applicable to this new role, such as the business school and social sciences “to bring more expertise back into the communities. We want to be more accountable to citizens of the state and to adopt some emergent technologies. We never really had a true 100-percent from the university organization on what technologies county offices should adopt. They kind of made some recommendations that let us go the direction we wanted, based on what was needed in the county. Now we’re going to see more direction coming right from the organization.”
Structurally, an organizational chart would show a state director; three associate directors to help with campus functions; four program leaders who work with field staff and people on campus to identify issues; five regions in the field, each with a director; and 82 county directors such as Rajzer.
“Changes you’re going to see which might impact us locally, we’re going to have two associate directors – one basically in administration and one who deals with programs.
“Program leaders are going to be gone, replaced with four program institute directors with different functions than in the past,” Rajzer related. “Five regional director positions will be gone, replaced by 13 smaller district coordinators. Hopefully, smaller districts will be more responsive to the needs of those smaller areas. The biggest change is that there aren’t going to be anymore county Extension directors. All 82 of us will be ‘gone.’
“We can apply for one of the four institute director positions. I don’t qualify. For that, you need a Ph.D. We can also apply for one of the 13 district coordinator positions. You need a master’s degree for that. Or, most will probably become local Extension educators and do more programming” with a lightened administrative load.
The District 13 coordinator should be named in two weeks.
Turning from administration to programming, Rajzer said campus-based program leaders under the old model worked with areas of expertise, or “AofE.”
There were 26 program units mixing field and campus staff who identified community priorities, developed programs, delivered programs and evaluated programs.
Those 26 AofEs could be field crops, fruit, vegetables or Citizen Planner state and local government seminars. Field educators could align themselves with multiple AofEs.
The downside was generalized knowledge that might not have been as specific as what the public needed.
The other drawback was that budget and personnel issues were handled by multiple campus locations to the point of confusion.
A program leader was like the hub of a wheel with AofE spokes radiating.
Each might work on a different interest area – vegetables on marketing, fruit on a labor issue and greenhouses on profitability.
“Under the new program structure,” he said, “we’re going to have four program institutes: Green Michigan, leveraging natural and human assets for prosperity; Agribusiness, which combines fruit, vegetables and field crops; Preparing Michigan’s Children and Youth for the Future, or what was 4-H; and Health and Nutrition.
“The program institute director will have a lot of authority up there on campus in how things get done,” Rajzer said. “It could be he or she. Two have been picked,” with interviews continuing to fill the other two slots.
“They are going to be identifying statewide initiatives and priorities for educational programs. These are going to be broad perspectives,” he said. “He’s going to go through some of the same steps as areas of expertise, but on a statewide basis. One issue might be job opportunities. He’s also going to work with statewide project teams to develop focused educational programs. The project teams you can kind of relate to the old AofE teams.”
If agriculture jobs emerged as the priority for the coming year, “People in vegetables are going to look at promoting job opportunities in the vegetable area.” Ditto for field crops.
“That’s where it’s going to be more focused than in the past,” he said. “Here’s another example of how it might work if we promoted economic opportunities in agriculture. We might have one team across the state working on bio-energy issues, another team working on agri-tourism, a third team expanding farmers’ markets and a fourth team promoting roadside markets.”
Program institute directors will be responsible for collaborating and coordinating with campus departments, stakeholders and MSU administration, as well as evaluating all of the educators under each institute.
“From a local perspective,” Rajzer said, “each staff member has to be appointed to one of these institutes. They gave us an opportunity in February to express our interest. Most likely they’ll appoint us to that institute, but if you have more coverage than you need in one particular area, there may be some people shifted around. The local Extension staff will probably be doing more multi-county programming than we have in the past.”
MSUE is interested in establishing MOAs, or Memorandums of Agreements, with all of its partners by July 1, identifying the relationship that exists between the two parties; addressing priorities that match MSU’s expertise and its ability to adapt to the community’s changing needs; and viewing MSU as a partner instead of a county department, Extension.
“They want partnerships that really work for both of us due to the economic times. We realize the counties have gone through a lot of stress the past four, five, six years, maybe longer,” Rajzer said. “Our situation is not over with. The university wants to see a 20-percent cut in departments on campus over the next four years, so we’ll be dealing with that challenge, but it’s not our intent to cost the county more money. Within that MOA we want to make sure we provide better service on educational efforts and we also want to give you an opportunity to increase your contribution, if you so desire. You could buy an educator’s time to address a particular issue.”
Rajzer said the county provides Extension office space in the 1899 courthouse, while MSU provides educators.
Cass County pays 60 percent of Extension Youth Educator Jessica Poulsen’s salary, MSU 40 percent. The county furnishes support staff, MSU supervision and expertise.
Poulsen’s 4-H position might be moved to the district level, with a program assistant to work with clubs and the fair, emphasizing maintaining rather than educational programming.
“If that’s the case,” he said, “there’s also talk of who’s going to pay for that. There are also questions on budgetary issues. An example of that would be our trust and agency account. When we do programming, we charge and pay for them out of local dollars or from appropriations you give us. Proceeds go into this trust and agency account and we, in turn, use the money to do additional local programs. The university is suggesting the trust and agency account be transferred” to East Lansing.
“There’s money in there the county could have a claim on. There’s a lot of gray in that section. If we’re not department heads and actually a partner with the county, does the county want someone who is not a department head supervising its staff? There are a number of unanswered questions. One is the commissioners’ view on us as a partner rather than a department.”
Cass County houses a multi-county swine educator, Dowagiac graduate Beth (Franz) Ferry, which isn’t anticipated to change.
Secretarial support should hold steady until 2011-2012.
Cass County’s family and consumer science educator position previously held by Cindy Warren is vacant.
Rajzer expects it to remain vacant, but noted program associate Nora Lee continues to provide nutrition education to several schools.
Warren also did radon and food safety.
“We’re getting rave reviews on what Nora’s done,” Rajzer said.
“My vision is that I don’t see a lot of change in staffing at the local level,” he said.
“There will be changes in what we do and how we perform.”