A joining of County Extension offices into an Extension District is under consideration in Pratt County.

An Extension District has several advantages to the current Extension operations. It would allow Extension agents to better serve the programming needs in their county by allowing Extension agents to specialize in a specific area, said Pratt County ExtensionAgent Jodi Drake.

Jim Lindquist, K-State Research and Extension Southwest Regional Director, presented the history of Extension Districts and how they would operate to the Pratt County Commissioners at their April 10 meeting.

The ultimate goal of an Extension District is greater county agent effectiveness as the specialize and narrow their focus. The first Extension District was formed in 1995. Now, 48 of the 105 counties in the state are part of Extension Districts, Lindquist said.

Extension agents have to know something about a lot of things and that doesn’t leave time for agents to specialize in one program area.

“Mark (Ploger Extension Agent) and I wear a lot of hats,” Drake said.

Each Extension agent in a district would become a specialist in some area and would be available for each county in the district. While the agents would specialize in one area, they would continue to provide information over the same wide group of topics they handle now.

A county in the district may need a specialist from another county to come and do a program meaning travel time. But county agents already put in a lot of travel time, especially for 4-H, so that wouldn’t be anything new.

Joining forces with other districts will create a financial base for the Extension district. Currently, the Extension board develops a budget and it’s presented to the County Commissioners for an appropriation. With that funding, the Extension office hopes the Commissioners will be able to give the agents and office staff a raise but that doesn’t always happen. The Commissioners aren’t always able to do that for one reason or another.

A major reason an ExtensionDistrict is being considered is the decrease in funding from the state. Extension offices are funded through Kansas State University. The state has cut funding to education, including K-State, and they, in turn have cut funding to the ExtensionOffices.

Last year, the Pratt ExtensionOffice had to give some of their funding back to the state. The Extension offices are not getting the funding they need from the state and county.

“That’s one of the reasons were looking at that option,” Drake said.

From the Extension agents point of view, they are stretched pretty thin. An Extension district would allow the agents to do their jobs better and be more focused on the county.

“The nature of our jobs is evolving and I think we need to evolve with them,” Drake said.

A challenge with specialization is finding people willing to work in a specialized area, Lindquist said.

An Extension district would combine two or more counties together to make one district. Right now, Pratt County Extension is in discussion with Barber and Stafford Counties about forming a district. The county commissioners in those counties seem to be in favor of it but more consideration has to be done before making a decision and that will take some time.

“It’s too soon to tell,” Drake said.

Rose is with the Pratt Tribune.

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