OSU to shut down Multnomah County Extension office

February 10, 2003

PORTLAND - The state's most high-profile provider of non-formal education, the Oregon State University Extension Service—which has an office in every countyplans to shut down its Multnomah County office by the end of July because of a funding problem.

The "difficult decision" came after county officials, making budget reductions because of the state's economic downturn, decided in 2002 to end longstanding financial support for Extension programming, said John Winder, an Extension Service regional director.

Since the county withdrew its support, the OSU Extension Service has been augmenting the office's operation with reserve funds, but those will be depleted soon, according to Winder.

"We're not leaving Multnomah County because we want to," Winder said. "We're leaving because we have to. Extension functions as a cooperative venture between the federal government, state government, county governments and private supporters. Federal, state and county funds are necessary to support the activities in every county.

"Our operational policy is relatively simple," Winder said. "We're willing to place faculty in any county in the state as long as county government is willing to provide funds for operational expenses.

"In a sense," he added, "counties choose if Extension programs exist or not. Counties have the opportunity to leverage state and federal dollars with county funds through Extension. Multnomah County benefited from $7 in state and federally supported programming for every $1 of county support."

Winder said Extension hopes to find a way to rebuild the partnership. However, at the moment the Extension Service has little financial flexibility because it also is coping with other cuts in its budget linked to the state's economic woes, he noted.

The Multnomah County Extension office opened in 1916. It operates programs that help youth, low-income families, the nursery and landscape industries, small farmers, recyclers, gardeners and others.

Extension delivers its research-based information and education through classes, workshops, exhibits and displays, telephone information systems, web-based and printed information and one-on-one interactions.

According to Winder, Extension's Multnomah County office at 211 S.E. 80th Ave., and the 4-H Youth Program Office at 404 S.E. 80th Ave., will close on or before July 31.

After July 31, he said, the Extension Service will have no office operations in Multnomah County and no in-county support for Extension volunteers.

There will no longer be a Multnomah County 4-H Program, or related activities such as 4-H functions at the county fair. Youth and 4-H club members will have the option of becoming part of the 4-H programs in Clackamas, Washington, Columbia or Hood River counties.

Some 27 faculty and staff members worked for Extension in Multnomah County. Most will be assigned to duties in other counties or their jobs will be terminated, said Winder. In a few instances, such as the 4-H Wildlife Stewards program funded by a federal grant, work will continue but with no office facilities or expenses funded through the base Extension budget.

"It's not that we were singled out in the budget cutting," said Paul Sunderland, chair of the Multnomah County Extension Office. "The county is facing some very difficult times economically. That said, I do feel that in our rapidly evolving world, there's a growing need for the kind of non-formal educational programs Extension provides."

"Our programs resulted in more than 750,000 contacts with the people in Multnomah County last year," Sunderland pointed out. "This was accomplished by our faculty and staff, along with a virtual army of 1,409 volunteers. This included programs that support education in 43 different schools in the county.

"To cope with today's constantly shifting business and employment scene, citizens have to make changes in themselves and in the community," Sunderland said. "There are health, crime and environmental issues with major economic implications that we can address in a preventative way, as well as later on in hospitals, prisons and courtrooms.

"Non-formal education is a way society can invest up front in these kinds of areas," he said. "It's like the old television commercial about getting an oil filter for your car, the one where the mechanic says you can either pay me now, or pay me later."

More information about the Extension Service in Multnomah County is available on the web at: http://extension.oregonstate.edu/multnomah/.

Author: Andy Duncan
Source: John Winder