- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
Across California, county governments continue to face a funding crisis. Last year, many local budgets were balanced with the help of one-time federal stimulus money. This year, the major difference between those counties that are “stable” versus those that are facing huge deficits is the use of any available contingency funds. Indicators suggest next year will be an even bigger challenge for our county partners and will directly impact our county programs.
Some of us hope that economic recovery is in our immediate future and that we will return to the early 1980s when Extension was at its peak in funding and political support. Others are convinced that we must chart a new course, and that the future requires change to prepare for the opportunities that will exist given new economic, social and political realities.
While a number of our counties that faced major county budget cuts or complete elimination have been rescued by hard work from county directors, advisors, program reps, staff, supporters and with ANR support, we believe that the evidence pointing to continuing funding issues for California counties and to the need for new partnership models is overwhelming and that we must move quickly.
As we move forward, we are working to implement county models that will deliver the relevant, high-quality programs that define UC Cooperative Extension, stabilize funding, maximize resources going to programs and deliver essential long-term savings to the counties and UC. A multiple-county administrative partnership changes the funding dialog and will make our programs more competitive for UC, county and other funding.
Following our meeting with county directors in Davis last June, we have presented this concept to county administrative officers or their representatives from Calaveras and neighboring El Dorado, Amador and Tuolumne counties. The concept was well-received and discussions continue. After publication of local news stories about the preliminary meeting, we received e-mail from some people expressing concern about 4-H, Master Gardener and the nutrition programs. We have assured them that the plan is designed to retain and enhance programs. In addition, we are happy to report that about half the e-mail received has been positive – thanking us for looking hard at ways to save administratively, focus resources on programs, and build a stable model for UC Cooperative Extension.
Our Cooperative Extension program is a statewide system that brings the research and education power of the University of California to people in their local communities. While we are a sum of our parts, there is an essential synergy by being a system that is even more important now as we serve a demand for research and education larger than our resources. A functional system requires viable programs across the state.
Even as we wrestle with the challenges facing California counties, the future is very bright for an evolved Cooperative Extension and, at the time of this writing, we anticipate investing in hiring the largest group of county advisors and campus specialists in many decades. By any assessment, we will have been extraordinarily successful if, in the near term, we can build advisor numbers toward the 300 level with a proportional increase in specialist positions.
The decisions associated with identifying, prioritizing and allocating these resources must be fundamentally different than “backfilling position vacancies” that have occurred since we were 500 or even 300 advisors strong. Doing the hard work to strategically define and place them to meet current and future needs will help us grow even more in the long-term, and placing them into multiple-county administrative units maximizes their visibility and potential impact on our stakeholders.
Over the next several months, we will explore the benefits and costs of restructuring CE in counties that are interested in strengthening their partnership with UC and with their sister counties facing similar issues. California has changed and as a statewide program we will adapt in order to serve it well in the future.
Dan Dooley, Senior Vice President
Don Klingborg, Director, Strategic Advocacy & UC-County Partnerships
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