University of Tennessee Extension has begun implementing a new staffing plan to accommodate budget reductions of $5.4 million since 2008. As a result of the new plan, 48 agent and area specialist positions and 12 state specialist positions will be eliminated for a total reduction of 60 positions.

Preparations for the staffing plan have been under way for two years. Thanks to the support the state has provided through ARRA funds, UT Extension was able to accrue many vacancies through retirements and attrition. To implement the new plan, 19 individuals from across the state will be asked to transfer to vacant positions. The transfers are necessary to redistribute a smaller workforce and refill critical positions.

“We have made every effort to maintain a staffing level that will allow us to continue to carry out our mission and to minimize the impact on our staff and clientele,” Tim Cross, dean of Extension said. “We will work closely with those employees being transferred to support them in their transition.”

The plan eliminates 14 agent and two area specialist positions across each region of the state and nearly evenly across the Extension program areas of agriculture and natural resources, family and consumer sciences, and 4-H. After implementation, the organization’s western region will have 85 agents covering 31 counties, its central region will have 89 covering 31 counties, and its eastern region will have 87 agents covering 33 counties. No counties will be left without an agent; every county will have an agent to cover every program area.

“The university has faced its most financially challenging time in modern history,” explained Joe DiPietro, UT president and former chancellor of the UT Institute of Agriculture, of which Extension is one of four units. “I commend Dr. Cross, his leadership team and staff on the plan they developed to address this difficult challenge in preparation for stimulus funds to end June 30.”

Committed to county-based presence

UT Extension is committed to maintaining a county-based presence, though other land-grant institutions across the country have moved to a regional model. A county-based model enables Extension to respond to local needs, reach more people, and provide education statewide that addresses critical issues such as obesity, positive youth development, agricultural sustainability and community development. With offices in each of Tennessee’s 95 counties, UT Extension made 4.5 million direct contacts in 2009, resulting in an estimated economic impact of $343 million.

“The loss of this many positions may require that we carefully consider our program offerings and how to deliver them,” Cross said. “Changes of that nature would also be made thoughtfully, transparently and with stakeholder input.”

In addition to having the right staff in the right locations, Extension’s strategic plan identifies five strategic goals. They include delivering unbiased, research-based education to address the greatest needs of Tennessee families, farmers, youth and communities; expanding partnerships, funding and infrastructure; becoming the employer of choice to attract and retain a diverse and highly qualified workforce; maximizing organizational efficiency and effectiveness; and increasing the visibility of Extension as a trusted and valued source of knowledge for Tennessee residents.

Extension’s budget reductions are part of the UT Institute of Agriculture’s overall reductions. When stimulus funds end in June, the Institute will have reduced its budget a total of $13 million since 2008.

UT Extension http://extension.tennessee.edu operates in each of Tennessee’s 95 counties as the off-campus division of the UT Institute of Agriculture. An educational outreach organization, funded by federal, state and local governments, UT Extension, in cooperation with Tennessee State University, brings research-based information about agriculture, family and consumer sciences, youth and community development to the people of Tennessee where they live and work.

A graphic of the staffing plan is available online at http://www.agriculture.utk.edu/news/releases/2011/01-ExtensionStaffing.html.