As of March 1, Washington State University Extension, Island County will serve as an independent contractor with Island County instead of a department.
The change will allow the Extension to increase programming by 20 percent, without increasing the cost to the county, according to Tim Lawrence, Island County director for WSU Extension.
“We did it primarily to increase programming, avoid confusion and avoid duplicity of administration,” Lawrence said in an interview.
He brought the new contract to the Board of Island County Commissioners Wednesday at a work session to schedule for it to be signed at the commissioners’ Feb. 27 meeting.
“I’m excited about the academic focus,” said Commissioner Jill Johnson at the meeting.
All of the commissioners voiced support for the change, which Lawrence said has been a year in the making. With the original organizational structure, Extension employees were a mix of county and university employees. After March 1, all the county employees will transition to WSU employees.
“It’s just streamlining,” Lawrence said. “Avoiding duplication of efforts and increasing the quality of the education.”
Lawrence said this will cut back administration costs because he no longer needs a separate accountant for Island County bookkeeping. That position was already eliminated in anticipation of the restructure, and that money has been able to go toward the small farms coordinator, the master gardener coordinator and the office assistant. As a result, the office is now able to be open five days a week instead of four and the two coordinators’ hours have increased.
This change is an opportunity to expand the classes offered at the extension, which can be teleconferenced in from any WSU campus. These can include programs such as Cultivating Success, which educates farmers about developing sustainable small farms. Extension is also working with the nursing school in Spokane to bring continuing education courses via video to the island, he said.
“That’s really what it’s all about, is access and opportunity,” he said.
The new contract is significantly more specific about goals Extension is aiming to meet with its programming. The contract lists the number workshops to be held, outreach materials to be disbursed, number of students served by the 4-H program and other benchmarks, all of which increase the university’s accountability Lawrence said.
“WSU Extension has always been a great value in Island County,” said Commissioner Helen Price Johnson at the meeting. “This clarifies your mission even more.”
“It will soon cease to be an undiscovered gem, I think,” she added. “I think the future is very bright.”