Local 4-H groups could be in jeopardy if state Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, has her way.
Tyson, who represents our District No. 12, has proposed to do away with the current Extension District system, which oversees a multitude of services and programs, of which 4-H is its flagship.
Tyson is sponsor of Senate Bill 411, which would revert the multi-county districts to single-county entities. The change would reduce the economies of scale the multi-county districts have witnessed, plus put the burden of Extension funding back to individual counties.
It’s only been since 2010 that Allen, Bourbon and Neosho counties became the Southwind Extension District. A board of 12 oversees the District. For Allen County, board members are Jim Smart, LaHarpe, Dr. Wes Stone, Iola, Dr. Darrell Monfort, Iola, and Jonette Bland, Moran.
The initial board was appointed by Allen County commissioners and now run for election every other year.
The three-county district pools its money to fund combined services. For Allen County, a 1.42-mill levy goes toward the staff of six agents, three office professionals, and a food and nutrition leader. The local property tax levy raises about $135,000, enough of a boost to, for the first time, provide health insurance for office personnel.
Tyson’s beef is that county commissioners, not the elected Extension board members, are better equipped to handle such things as budgets. Also testifying for Tyson’s measure was Iola’s Virginia Macha.
No offense to our local county commissioners — who have a solid reputation of being a friend to the Extension district — but the Southwind District has been running better than ever.
By working in conjunction with Bourbon and Neosho counties, the Extension district now has experts in horticulture, livestock, adult development and aging, food and nutrition and 4-H.
“Instead of two agents, we now have six,” said Carla Nemecek, who serves as director of Southwind.
The combined manpower also offers better and more varied programs for 4-H’ers, probably the best program we have going for our area youth.
Across Kansas, 45 counties now form 16 Extension districts. The effort began in the early 1990s. While we were relatively late to make the change, we were quick to realize increased resources enabling us to provide specialized educational programming.
IF TYSON’S bill were to pass, it could spell the demise of Extension districts in counties that singularly either aren’t supportive or can’t afford the services.
In Allen County, it would mean an immediate reduction in benefits for employees and cuts across the board, including to our 4-H programs.
The move to join forces with our neighboring counties is a proven success. Or, as the 4-H motto goes, we’ve made the best better.
— Susan Lynn