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Originally published Tuesday, February 24, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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4-H among state programs facing big WSU budget cut?

4-H supporters are mounting an e-mail campaign to combat possible budget cuts that they say could decimate Washington State University extension learning programs.

Seattle Times staff reporter

OLYMPIA — 4-H supporters are mounting an e-mail campaign to combat possible budget cuts that they say could decimate Washington State University extension learning programs.

WSU Provost Warwick Bayly recently told a state Senate committee that state budget cuts could force the university to slash at least 49 percent of its public-service branch, which includes extension programs, the campus radio station and small-business development centers across the state.

"We're picking our poison, I guess," Bayly told the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee.

Though the university has not released a definite list of cuts, Bayly's comments left many participants in WSU extension programs worried and eager to fight for their program's survival.

Tip Hudson, director of the WSU extension office in Ellensburg, said he sent an e-mail to more than 400 people in his local 4-H program warning them of the potential cuts. Steve Van Vleet, with the extension branch in Whitman County, also sent an e-mail to people across the state who could be impacted by the cuts.

"There is a lot of fear. It really has gotten people worried about whether they're going to keep their jobs," Van Vleet said. "I can't imagine the bulk of the cuts being held by public service. We are a land-grant university, based on research and extension."

John Gardner, vice president for economic development and WSU extension, said he's not surprised by the response to the university's early budget proposal. He said more than 250,000 people statewide participate in some 2,000 WSU extension workshops each year.

WSU extension programs operate in every county in the state. They offer courses in agriculture, livestock, wine making, environmental conservation, nutrition and beach habitat preservation.

Gardening programs and 4-H are especially popular.

State officials asked the universities to prepare scenarios showing how they would handle budget cuts of 13 and 18 percent.

While the University of Washington suggested cutting anywhere from 600 to 800 jobs, WSU presented a list of cuts in research, administration and student services that could total $61 million to $93 million over the next two years.

As part of those reductions, the public-services branch could face anywhere from 49 to 80 percent in cuts. Layoffs could exceed 100 full-time faculty members and 150 support workers, according to extension program staff.

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Pat BoyEs, director of 4-H Youth Development, said "there has been an extreme reaction" to the potential cuts from 4-H members across the state. BoyEs said parents and adult 4-H volunteers have been quick to e-mail lawmakers with their dismay.

"I want people to be informed, but I don't want people to be acting out of fear," BoyEs said, adding that WSU has overseen the state's 4-H program since 1902.

"I don't want that commitment to the program to be translated into fear."

Jennifer Sullivan: 360-236-8267 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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