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Drastic changes made at SDSU

Tidal waves were sent through South Dakota State University last week as serious funding cuts were made to balance the university's Fiscal Year 2012 budget in response to a 10 percent reduction in state appropriations, which amounted to $1.3 million for university proper. The total - including the net cut, unavoidable costs and transition funding - is $3.825 million.

In an ironic twist, SDSU's need to trim within its colleges seems to have hit the College of Agriculture & Biological Sciences the hardest - the very ideal the college was founded on as a land-grant institution in 1881 as part of the Morrill Act.

Regarding the reductions, SDSU President David Chicoine said, "We remain committed to the core mission as South Dakota's land-grant university and to providing the best possible academic experience for students."

Fifty-five university employees received layoff notices -14 from the university proper, 31 within the Agricultural Experiment Station and 10 from Cooperative Extension Service offices on campus. SDSU reports another 27 positions will be eliminated through vacancies, and 8.8 retirements will be part of the overall reductions, bringing the overall number of positions eliminated to 90.8.

Meanwhile, 99 county Extension employees were shocked to receive reduction notices and roughly 60 secretaries that service those county offices now risk losing their jobs, depending on future county funding.

At SDSU, all 12-month faculty were reduced to 10 month contracts.  Faculty with Extension appointments may be offered two months of supplemental university funded salary for their Extension duties

"In 1914 when Cooperative Extension Service came to South Dakota it was a catalyst to improving our state, but it has remained the same for the last 97 years. This change has the opportunity to be a new catalyst to not only bring South Dakota into the 21st century, but to help it meet challenges we can only imagine," said Dunn.

On April 12, Extension employees were called onto the campus of SDSU where they were told of the new restructuring of Extension and given reduction notices. A total of 99 Extension personnel were notified which is the equivalent of 12 faculty positions, according to Chicoine.

The new look of Extension will consolidate all Extension offices into regional offices located in Aberdeen, Faith, Mitchell, Pierre, Rapid City, Sioux Falls and Watertown. Extension will also maintain three rederally recognized tribal Extension program offices in Eagle Butte, Mission and Porcupine.

The regional center structure was chosen to reflect population, as well as regional traffic for business, trade and health care, shopping and banking. The communities were also selected to provide a statewide network of offices that is no more than approximately 75 miles from a majority of extension's audiences.

The seven regional offices will encompass office space for professional staff - including two to three Extension state specialists and four to 12 Extension field specialists, a new job classification for the former Extension educator positions. Current appointments for all county Extension educators will terminate on Ocober 21 following the conclusion of the 4-H year, Achievement Days, and State Fair. The 99 job openings will then be back filled to around 82 with the majority of those placed at a regional facility, according to Dunn.

To maintain the legacy of 4-H in South Dakota, a 4-H advisor position will be created and those people will be responsible for 4-H program activities, Achievement Days and 4-H at State Fair. South Dakota counties will be invited to participate in monetary support that is appropriate for their budgets. The exception will be counties - Pennington, Lincoln and Minnehaha - who have 10,000 youth or more. Extension will support one full-time person for those counties while partial funding for 34 half- time 4-H advisors for counties with 2,500 or less children is planned. The remaining funding for those 4-H advisors must come from the counties themselves. Each county would be responsible for $16,750 to pay for part of the advisor's salary - the amount would be less if two, three, or four counties partner together. Extension would pay $25,242 for salary and benefits.

"The counties have paid $3.2 million in the past for 4-H. If they will hold that support we will have very healthy 4-H programs in each county. If those counties choose to fix their roads, or do something else with that money then 4-H will be impacted negatively," said Dunn.

If the counties choose not to support a local 4-H advisor, all 4-H information will be provided to the families involved through traditional media and new technologies.

Dunn said the new Extension plan will rely on technology to help service residents of South Dakota. Already launched is the new iGrow website that offers people research, applications and news.

Bringing South Dakota into a new era isn't without some pain though. Budget cuts have made the transition far less appealing and the scope of people impacted is large.

University officials announced Olson Agricultural Analytical Service Laboratory and Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Laboratory would shut down by October 21. The labs analyze feed, forage, fertilizer, soil, animal tissue and water, and also pesticides in water, foliage and soil. It is also a large component for student education as well, giving training to an average of 20 youth a year.

The Olson lab is said to be self-sustaining, generating $1.2 million a year. It conducts testing for numerous research projects and is contracted with the South Dakota Department of Agriculture for $250,000 to provide regular testing of pesticide, fertilizer and feed samples.

Also cut is the AgBio Communications Unit, which issues agricultural and Extension news and produces the television shows "Garden Line" and "In Focus." The unit also does Web development for the College of Ag & Bio, creates smart phone applications, videos for 4-H and provides graphics and publication support for the college. To reduce duplicity, Dunn said AgBio's services will be moved to University Relations, Office of Information and Technology and the new journalism studio in the Department of Arts and Science.

"South Dakota isn't the same as it was 10 years ago. There are technologies today that we can access and need to keep up with," said Dunn.

Two of the university's Agricultural Experiment Stations - Highmore's Central Ag Experiment Substation and SDSU Gerdes Cow Camp in Miller - will be taken offline for research. Created in 1887 through the Hatch Act, the South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station's mission is said to conduct research to enhance quality of life in South Dakota through the beneficial use and development of human, economic, and natural resources.

The college will now have five experiment stations scattered throughout the state helping researchers complete studies related to agricultural production, natural resources and conservation, human nutrition, biotechnology, and bio-based energy.