SALEM — The Oregon Department of Corrections is moving ahead with its plan to end most of its adult education contracts with Blue Mountain Community College and other Oregon community colleges in 2021, jeopardizing 27 jobs locally.
The state’s two-year schools had been trying to appeal to the department to change its mind, but after some back and forth, department Director Colette Peters reaffirmed the decision in a Friday, Oct. 16, letter.
It’s an especially tough blow to BMCC, which teaches classes at Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, Two Rivers Correctional Institution and Powder River Correctional Facility in Baker City.
“I’m massively disappointed,” BMCC President Dennis Bailey-Fougnier said.
The department told the colleges that it intended to move much of its education programming in-house over the summer, but it seemed like they might get a reprieve from DOC if they met a narrow set of parameters.
In a Sept. 30 letter, Peters wrote that the state prison system would reconsider its decision if all colleges agreed to a standardized contract and more flexible and consistent schedules and other concessions. Peters added that the letter shouldn’t be construed as the opening of negotiations, but instead represented a final offer that required a response by Oct. 14.
The Oregon Community College Association, acting on behalf of BMCC and five other community colleges with DOC contracts, came in with a counterproposal at the deadline.
The response letter, signed by Bailey-Fougnier, association director Cam Preus and the other community college presidents, agrees to consolidate all college contracts into one contract with DOC, cut total expenses by 15% and expand their educational offerings to two other state prisons in the Willamette Valley.
But the signees also critiqued the prison system’s plan to replace the schools’ services internally, pointing out that the corrections department would no longer be able to access funds from the Higher Education Coordinating Commission, college employees offered more experience and expertise, and the plan’s educational programming hours were “unrealistic.”
While Bailey-Fougnier felt that the community colleges met “95%” of what the department asked for, a rubric included with Peters’ Oct. 16 letter states that they met only one of the DOC’s 18 requirements. Peters added that the department hoped it could continue working with community colleges on offering vocational training and associate’s degree programs.
Pete Hernberg, the president of the community college’s faculty union, suggested the fight wasn’t over.
“The Department of Corrections’ rejection of OCCA’s proposal shows how disingenuous the DOC has been throughout this entire process,” he wrote in an email. “OCCA’s proposal was a huge concession, saving them tons of money and giving them nearly everything they asked for. Our state and local unions stand in opposition to DOC’s disastrous plan, and we intend to continue to fight this in Salem.”
Bailey-Fougnier said the community colleges’ attention will now turn toward lobbying the governor’s office and Legislature to intervene.
BMCC and its labor unions have been working in tandem to save the corrections education program, and Hernberg said the governor’s office has already received hundreds of communications supporting the colleges. State Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, said maintaining the contracts would be one of his top priorities should he be elected in November.
BMCC’s contract expires on Jan. 31, and Bailey-Fougnier said he hopes staff from the corrections education program won’t begin leaving early looking for other job opportunities while the college tries to prevent its elimination.