Abingdon, Jan.6, 2011 -- A public hearing was held at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center to discuss the Governor’s budget amendments. Approximately 300 people attended and 75 people made statements. A panel including Delegate Phillips, Senator Reynolds, and Senator Wampler listened to the statements. Ten youth and adults supporting Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) spoke including Deborah Ring of Pulaski County. A summary of their comments is given below.
In the 2010 budget, the General Assembly stated the following: “It is the intent of the General Assembly that the Cooperative Extension Service gives highest priority to programs and services which comprised the original mission of the Extension Service, especially agricultural programs at the local level.” The original mission includes education for 4-H youth, assistance with agriculture and natural resources, and education for families.
Because of needed budget reductions, the state budget committee directed Dr. Alan Grant, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Virginia Tech, to appoint a committee to propose an Extension restructuring plan. Unfortunately, Dr. Grant did not follow the direction of the General Assembly. The plan was developed by nine research professors and administrators. There were no field agents, consumers, or the public involved. Because of its one-sided composition, the committee will not recommend equitable cuts in the research area vs. the field agent area.
This was illustrated with the restructuring plan unveiled by Dr. Grant on October 7, 2010, which regionalizes Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) staff and programs. This plan threatens the very existence of VCE by eliminating two key components of Land Grant Universities – outreach and local presence. In addition, Virginia Tech has not outlined how much money will be saved by this plan.
On December 17, 2010, Dr. Grant announced new “implementation teams” which will include consumers and field agents in “detailed discussions”. However, these teams are working within the framework already set by the original committee and final decisions will be made by the currently stacked committee. So, this is no solution.
The Governor’s budget amendment contains $494,410 to support implementation of this flawed restructuring plan. This amendment must not be approved by the General Assembly.
The current restructuring plan must be scrapped and a new committee formed to include field agents and consumers. There should also be a very close look at how current funds have been spent and what is actually funded.
VCE field offices have been in existence serving Virginians since 1914. VCE field offices must not be deconstructed in favor of professors, researchers, and administrators. Local field agents are the element of VCE that directly serve local farmers, youth, and families.
Contact: Deborah Ring, Co-Chairman of the Virginia Extension Advocacy Committee