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County extension office staff shrinks

October 25, 2008

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The work force is dwindling at K-State Research & Extension's Douglas County office, which provides educational programs and information to the community. It has gone from five full-time agents to two in six weeks.

This time it is 4-H agent Emily Morehouse who is leaving. She has accepted a job in Washington, D.C., where she will work in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's plant and animal systems unit. Morehouse said she would be involved in projects such as the AgrAbility Project, which assists people with disabilities employed in agriculture. Her last day was Wednesday.

"It was a difficult decision to leave Lawrence, but opportunities like this do not come every day. It was something that I felt personally and professionally would be a good move," Morehouse said. "I will miss working with the kids. They bring a whole new dimension to any program you are working with."

Morehouse's exit comes after the director's departure.

Trudy Rice, who had been director of the Douglas County Extension since 1999, left in September for a job with Kansas University's Continuing Education program. Bill Wood, agriculture agent, has been serving as the interim director.

In June, a hiring freeze was put on the state's extension offices because of budget cuts and the economy. Within the past month, K-State Research and Extension changed it from a "freeze to frost," Wood said. Now, counties can fill the positions with employees who already work within the state's extension program.

Wood expects people would be interested in the Douglas County positions because of the location, potential wages and bigger office.

"There are certain counties that traditionally have more money to pay a higher salary," he said. And "some rural counties can only afford one employee."

Douglas County's operation has a budget of $819,000 for 2009, down from $863,000 this year.

Wood said he was interested in becoming the permanent director. Also, Kjrsten Abel Ruch, who has worked with the county's 4-H Youth Development program for the past two years, plans to apply for the 4-H agent position. She has been appointed the interim agent. The county's 4-H program has 10 clubs, 370 members and about 150 volunteers.

Wood said the 11-member Douglas County Extension Executive Board is expected to decide on the director's position at its Nov. 4 meeting. They will decide on whether to appoint Wood as the director or to begin accepting applications within Kansas Extension.

Once a director is hired, the board will likely focus on the 4-H position.

Wood said the county's extension office also is dealing with the absence of Susan Krumm, family and consumer science agent. She began a five-month sabbatical just one week before Rice's departure. She is studying work force wellness and is expected to return in mid-January.

So, that leaves Jennifer Smith, horticulture agent, Wood and Abel Ruch.

But Wood said the office is lucky to have part-time employees who are willing to work more hours. And about 10 community members have volunteered to help.

"So, that's neat to hear," he said. "That's a positive spin to the whole thing."

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