OSU Cooperative Extension adjusting to budget reality

When someone mentions the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, you may not realize all that it involves. The programs offered have a positive impact on every person in Garvin County.

4-H club members serve their communities through visits to veterans, food drives, mentoring and presenting workshops at the county fair. They have exceled in county, district, state and national shooting sports competitions, served as Oklahoma 4-H district officers, and been awarded at the state level for various projects throughout their 4-H career.

Local farmers/ranchers rely on Extension to get the latest research-based information on their livestock herds or crops, and ensure their soil, forage and water analysis samples are properly coded and forwarded to the lab. Your county educator then assists in the interpretation of results to advise crop producers and homeowners in making decisions that provide the best outcome.

The Family and Consumer Sciences program provides state mandated co-parenting seminars to guide divorcing parents in helping their children adjust to the emotional aspect of parental separation. FCS offers monthly presentations to provide up to date information on a multitude of subjects such as healthy living, horticulture and cyber security. Partnering with McClain, Cleveland Extension offices and Mid-America Technology Center, an annual hands-on financial training program, “Reality Check,” is provided for high school freshmen.

Garvin County Extension also partners with local organizations to provide programing for children after school and during the summer months.

Oklahoma Home and Community Education members are involved in providing diapers, clothing and other essentials for children in Oklahoma Department of Human Services care, presenting healthy living programs to school children, rabies clinics, mentoring youth in numerous life skills, and providing fruits and vegetables for senior adults, many who are shut-ins.  

Extension offers assistance to entrepreneurs learning the ins and outs of owning a business. The Master Gardner program and many fairs and livestock shows also are supported through Extension efforts. In addition, two popular public television shows, Oklahoma Gardening and SUNUP, are Extension products.

This is just a sampling of all that Extension does. A staple in Oklahoma for more than a century, OCES has a presence in all 77 counties and is a cooperative effort among federal, state and local governments. 

OCES offices across the state are funded primarily from state, federal and county dollars. Additional funding comes in the form of grants, with a portion also coming from fee-based programs. 

In 2018, 64 percent of the budget came from state funds, with about 16 percent from county funding and 16 percent from federal appropriations. However, federal funding has been virtually flat for the last two decades.

While state public universities and colleges offset part of the cuts in state funding with tuition increases, it’s important to know that the Cooperative Extension Service and the Agricultural Experiment Station system do not receive tuition dollars. 

Each agency absorbed the full effect by reducing expenditures. The result is an overall reduction in services at a time when demand is increasing for research-based information and resources that can help fuel the Oklahoma economy.

In light of these cuts, leaders within OCES are in the process of strategic planning so the organization will continue to offer valuable programs and information designed to meet the needs of all Oklahomans.

To help operate within budget constraints over the last several years, Damona Doye, associate vice president, OCES, Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources points out that Extension personnel numbers have been reduced by more than one-third, accompanied by a 25 percent reduction in area specialists. Several counties are sharing educators due to budget constraints.

“These personnel reduction measures at the state, area and district levels were taken to protect the county Extension personnel who are in touch with Oklahomans across the state,” she said. 

OCES has taken additional measures to provide access to Extension. “Because we face challenges of serving the public with fewer staff, we also are adopting new technology to extend our reach,” Doye said. “Our overall goal is to continue to provide programs that enhance the lives of all Oklahomans and do so within our limited budget.”

“Because OCES’s ability to invest in local personnel is reduced, it will likely lower the level of local educator and administrative support in many counties. 

“The extent of cuts in personnel or their time on the job depends on the outcome of a variety of initiatives this coming year,” Doye said. “We’ll continue to look for ways to grow revenues and cut costs. We’re encouraging creativity in thinking about new and different partnering opportunities.”

“For example, if local government cannot help support a full-time educator position, perhaps they can invest in one jointly with nearby counties. OCES will be talking to other organizations and agencies about the possibility of jointly funded positions. Also, fee-based programming may increase.”

In Garvin County, this potentially means staff will be reduced to 1 educator and one 3/4 support staff position. 

Their staff has already been reduced to 1 educator, 1 clerical and 1 program assistant. There is not currently a Family and Consumer Sciences/4-H Youth Development educator upon the retirement of Connie Wollenberg in January.

“Sustaining the level of programming needed in our county would be significally affected if we could not at least keep our staff at its current level. Our volunteers are amazing, but there is only so much they can do. Many of them work full-time, but generously go above and beyond because they recognize the importance of the services Extension provides”, states Melissa Koesler, Garvin County Extension Director and Agriculture/4-H Youth Development educator.

With increasing state budget reductions the past few years, Garvin County’s local government has been instrumental in ensuring Garvin County Cooperative Extension Service continues to effectively serve and educate its citizens. 

“We are indebted to our County Commissioners and Excise Board who have supported county funding increases,” adds Koesler.

Organizations, businesses and individuals have also been key to county Extension’s continued presence. 4-H programs offered to 4-H youth are sustained by county fundraising, donations by organizations such as the Pauls Valley United Fund and the Pauls Valley Community Foundation. 

Additionally, the Les and Mary Puckett Children’s Foundation has provided a grant to offset the cost of 4-H camp for the past several years.

Koesler encourages those who count on research and extension programs to tell decision makers that these programs are an essential resource for Oklahomans. 

“I am happy to speak to anyone who have questions on the budget situation. They may contact me at the Garvin County Cooperative Extension Service, 405-238-6681.”