MSU team discusses changes with commissioners

OSCEOLA COUNTY — MSU Extension is putting on a new face.

The statewide Extension program has been undergoing an extensive “redesign” during the past few years, with the MSUE team not only working on the new look independently, but also involving the public through meetings, informational gatherings, and focus groups.

It’s been a long haul.

Finally, plans have been put to paper — although the “redesign” continues to be a work in progress.

Recently, MSUE district coordinator Sheri Spoelman met with Osceola County commissioners to explain what has been done, what is presently being done, and possible plans, programs and options for the future.

At the Feb. 15 session of the Committee of the Whole, Spoelman took the floor and presented a short program explaining the history of MSUE programs and how they have been funded in individual communities in the past.

This funding was a mix of local, state, and federal dollars tossed into a “kitty” and creating the financial basis for local MSUE programs.

Locally, there are five MSUE affiliated employees whose salaries and benefits are covered by this ‘blend’ of funding.

MSUE educator Jerry Lindquist is fully paid through MSUE. Osceola 4-H program coordinator Jacob Steig is funded through a mix of MSUE and county dollars.

Health and nutrition educator Shannon Lindquist is paid locally with county funding, while administrate assistant Renee Bisel receives her salary through grant funding.

Dan Massy, the county’s economic development coordinator, receives his salary from the county while MSU covers his benefits package.

Spoelman reviewed for commissioners a number of options to be considered for future funding of MSUE programs and personnel in Osceola County.

She noted that while some of the redesign being undertaken by MSU comes about as a result of dwindling finances in state institutions around Michigan, it was also being viewed with an eye to effectively meeting the needs of the MSUE program’s client base.

She pointed out that while MSU and the Extension Service is actively moving ahead with new programs and restructuring, nothing has been cemented in and there is always room for new ideas and suggestions.

She did point out as part of her presentation that with consideration of future funding options, MSUE was asking for one full-time staff support person in the local operation and half of a 4-H position in Osceola County.

During her presentation, the reasons for the MSUE “redesign” were offered. They included:

• To capture key economic growth opportunities for Michigan

• To innovate and grow commercial agriculture and agribusiness

• To build on opportunities in the new “Green” economy

• To help control health care costs

• To prepare tomorrow’s work force

• To focus and specialize programs and staff

• To connect with a broader range of MSU’s expertise

• To increase responsiveness making programs ‘agile’ and current

• To enhance accountability and evaluation

• To maintain and improve program presence in communities across the state.

In hoping to achieve these objectives, the “redesign” involves operation changes including:

• Reduced administrative costs through elimination of county directors and regional offices and the creation of districts; a reduction of administrative costs at the campus level including streamlined financial, human resources, and technology systems

• A minimum of one local MSUE educator in each county and a 4-H coordinator in each county.

• Having educators cover larger areas

• Making all programs available statewide

• Standardizing program work agreements and fees in each county with counties providing support staff, facility and utilities while MSU provides the educator and 4-H coordinator.

There was no action called for and no action taken following Spoelman’s presentation.