Extension committee shares proposals for new structure

After nearly a year of information gathering, vice president for extension and outreach John Lawrence shared two proposals from the Structured for Success committee during a public webinar on Aug. 20. The committee is studying how to reshape ISU Extension and Outreach's statewide organization to best serve Iowans. 

Twenty-five regional directors

The first model divides the state into 25 four-county regions, each with an extension regional director funded by ISU Extension. The regional director would have a supervisory role, freeing up county staffs to focus on local education, engagement and programming.

Lawrence outlined a number of responsibilities for the regional directors:

  • Integrate council priorities with extension mission, resources and Iowa code
  • Provide onboarding, mentoring, supervision and performance reviews for county staff
  • Implement budget and financial management
  • Assure alignment, reporting and risk management
  • Work with counties on program selection and delivery
  • Explore internal and external partnerships across counties

Through a memorandum of understanding with ISU Extension and Outreach, county councils would be responsible for extension personnel and education programming, determine compensation for county staff, and prepare and certify the annual budget.

Current regional directors would be reassigned within the new regions, and new regional directors would be hired where needed.

The recommended county staffing under this model includes an educator, director, program coordinator and office assistant as funds allow. A master's degree and experience would be required for educators, specialists and regional directors, with extension's tuition assistance program available to help county staff obtain additional education.

Counties would have the option to offer ISU's health and dental plan for their employees. Lawrence consistently heard the plans would help with employee retention. Employees must work at least 20 hours a week to qualify.

This model would cost counties an additional 2 to 3% service fee on top of the current 2.7% service fee of a county's maximum tax ask. The exact amount will be determined before county councils make their decision.

Option for larger counties

The other model presented by Lawrence is for Iowa's 10 largest counties -- those with 10 or more employees and an operating budget of at least $350,000. Single large counties or two moderate-sized counties that join together under one regional director would not pay the additional service fee, but extension would cover 20% (per county) of the regional director's salary, benefits and travel.

Looking ahead

Feedback on both models from extension staff and county council members is being collected through Oct. 11. That information will be used to help finalize the plan, to be shared Oct. 21. County councils will have until Jan. 1, 2020, to determine which model they choose.

The new organizational structure would go into effect July 1, 2020, with quarterly review sessions beginning Oct. 1, 2020. County councils would begin paying half of the partnership assessment to Iowa State on Nov. 1, 2020 with the other half coming at a later date.