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UW-Extension plans about 80 job cuts to absorb budget hit

February 11, 2016

 

MILWAUKEE Officials are planning to eliminate about 80 University of Wisconsin System-Extension positions as part of a reorganization plan drafted to absorb a state budget cut, the head of extension said Wednesday.

Chancellor Cathy Sandeen said the job reductions will come from a branch that works with people at a local level on agricultural, parenting and economic development issues through offices in each of the state's 72 counties.

The Extension is a University of Wisconsin System division designed to apply UW research and expertise across the state. Its responsibilities include providing online degrees, running public broadcasting and along with the local operations that help with everything from growing crops to family finances.

No county offices will close, and about 40 of the positions already are vacant, Sandeen said. The rest of the eliminations, which are likely to include research positions, in the 700-person Cooperative Extension division will become clear in the coming months. A news release detailing the reorganization said it will "consolidate administration, educators and researchers."

The "changes are in response to a significant budget cut," Sandeen said, referencing the $250 million reductions to the UW System in the two-year state budget Gov. Scott Walker signed in July. The extension's share of that cut is about $7 million.

Hundreds of letters poured in during a public comment period, Sandeen said during a conference call with reporters. In the statement, she said that "we considered every single piece of input, and the directions we're announcing reflect many of the ideas we've heard."

The Wisconsin Farm Bureau, however, criticized the plan as vague and said not much had changed from early versions.

"They say they're hearing what ag groups around the state are saying," Karen Gefvert, the farm bureau's government relations director, said, "but I don't know if it's really sinking in."

"We still have concerns," she added, "about what does the plan really mean for our research specialists that the farmers really need."

The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, the Wisconsin Association of Professional Nutrient Applicators, the Wisconsin Cattlemen's Association and the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association all have come out against the plan to cut researchers.

UW System Provost Aaron Brower said it's not clear how many research positions will be affected. The cuts planned for county extension workers, campus faculty and division administration will be specified by work groups and planning committees, he said.

 

Associated Press