Proration may force extension

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 29, 2001

office to cut some services


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Since Gov. Don Siegelman’s 6.2 percent proration announcement, higher education and K-12 officials have been looking for ways to make necessary cuts with as little damage as possible.

But while higher education and K-12 are duking it out over who should be cut the most, there are others in Pike County that are fearing what proration will mean to them and those they serve.

The Pike County Extension Office is funded partially by the state and will suffer along with colleges and K-12. A small percentage of the money that helps fund the Pike County Extension Office comes from the federal government, while the majority of it comes from the state government. The extension office receives money from the county and city to help with support personnel like secretaries, in-county travel, supplies and the day-to-day working of the office.

Tammy Powell, Pike County Extension agent and director of the Pike County 4-H program, said the extension office and county will feel proration more with the services they have been able to provide.

"Our specialist won’t be able to make as many visits and they’ll have to use the telephone more," Powell said. "Other things we might have to do is charge for publications that are now free."

Although Powell is concerned about what proration might mean to the Pike Count Extension Office and other county offices, she is also concerned about what it means to students.

"The biggest thing to me is it seems like our state leadership is pitting higher education and K-12 against each other," she said. "Whether it’s K-12, higher education or us that gets cut the most the people will be the first to feel it. And some of those people and students are served through the extension office."

The Pike County and other county extension offices in the state will be affected by proration because they are funded through higher education since they are a part of Auburn University and Alabama A& M.

"It’s a Catch 22," Powell said. "What happened to K-12 greatly affects higher education and in turn affects our workplace. We have felt a great deal over the last few years."

To Powell reduction in the county extension offices is nothing new. There was a reduction of county agents in the 1980s that she remembers well.

"In the 80s we had 400-plus county agents," she said. "After reductions we had around 200 agents. And now we may see more cuts.

"If we see these cuts, we hope that our service to the community does not decline but we fear that it will with fewer people in the office."

Being concerned about the welfare of the county extension program is natural for Powell, but like many others, including state officials, she said she doesn’t have the answers.

"I don’t know if there is a solution," she said. "But I do know that we cannot continue to patch. If we do we still have a lot of potholes with patches. All education is in a sad state of affairs right now. We need to realize K-12 and higher education depend on each other and start working together."

Even though Powell knows all is not well with funding for Alabama education, she thinks Alabama education is in good shape.

"I’d put our schools in Alabama up against any in the nation," she said. "The students, teachers and the county agents are second-to-none. We might be ranked low on tests but that is a very small way to judge. In work situations our students are better than most."

Another program that could be greatly affect by proration is the Pike County 4-H, which Powel holds near and dear to her heart. Powell has been director of and worked with the Pike County 4-H program for so many years her name has become synonymous with the program.

"We have already had to cancel a number of 4-H summer activities," Powell said.

Some of the activities that have been cancelled or have had funding cut are 4-H Congress, shooting sports activities, limits on number visiting the 4-H Center, State Performing Arts Program and many others."

Powell said state awards have been reduced and district roundups have been cut down in others places.

"The district roundups haven’t been cut here," she said. "The county is taking up the slack.

Like I said, things are felt first at a local level, like the county agents and the kids involved in 4-H. It’s sad the kids have to be hit twice with education and with 4-H."

But Powell is not letting proration get to 4-H yet. She said she will do everything she can to keep the program as strong as it has been in the past so the children will not miss any of the activities and will continue to benefit from the 4-H program.