Extension could share more posts

With one shared educator position already in the works for the Auglaize County OSU Extension Office, the possibility of others in the future are being discussed.

“Looking down the road, there is the possibility of sharing an ag agent,” Auglaize County Commissioner John Bergman said.

He said Mercer County already is sharing an agriculture educator with the state. Shelby County had approached Auglaize County about sharing a position, but have since hired someone full-time. Darke County could share, but Bergman said they are just too far away and are looking to share with Miami County.

“If the right opportunity presented itself, we would look at sharing an ag agent,” Bergman said.

He said preferably any shared arrangement would be with neighboring counties, such as Shelby or Mercer.

Auglaize County Agricultural Agent John Smith has no known retirement plans.

Bergman said sharing agents could possibly save the county $20,000 per position being shared.

Auglaize County is already saving $20,000 in 2012 with plans to be finalized by the end of the week to share a family and consumer sciences educator position by having Mercer County educator Barb Hennard work part-time in the county. Plans are to have her also help with the 4-H program.

While the 4-H educator position is the most highly reimbursed, Bergman

said the state plans on keeping one in each county. Statewide, there are 14 to 15 of those positions to be filled.

Beth Miller, the director of the Auglaize County Extension Office, said the goal has been to maintain a 4-H program and nutrition person in every county.

Years ago extension agents served multiple counties in the state and that is how the set up continues in other states.

Miller said any collaboration would have to make sense and be practical.

Lois Clark retired as the Auglaize County family and consumer sciences educator during the middle of 2011. She was among approximately 70 extension employees from across the state that took incentive packages offered by the Ohio State University amid economic struggles.

The transition process has continued since as decisions have been made on how to fill and cover for those retirements with some counties opting to share educators.

Across the state and region, changes have been taking hold as economic struggles have lead to reorganization with certain positions phased out and collaborations being used to fill others. Agricultural agents, once present in every county, have been cut by more than half in the 10-county area.

“I don’t know what the plan is to replace them,” Smith said at a previous meeting. “Our numbers are declining pretty fast. It’s a changing world.”

While there are still a lot of questions, other counties are facing the same situation as Auglaize County so its anticipated that OSU will develop general templates for handling them.

Miller said even when positions are shared, OSU encourages counties to approach the situation as one program rather than a division of time and lessening of offerings.

Several counties have had no internal applicants and have had to be posted externally with personnel from other counties helping them through the transition.

“We’re just trying to keep the programs going,” Miller said.

She said locally, programming will change based on educators in offices, but they are trying to become wiser in making those decisions.

“We try very hard to serve our clientele, but what we offer will change as our staff changes, we have to look at doing things differently,” Miller said.