Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution is visible behind a sign welcoming people to Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton on Oct. 5, 2020.

PENDLETON — More than two months after the Oregon Department of Corrections informally agreed to a new deal with the state’s community colleges, Blue Mountain Community College is closing in on a new contract to continue offering adult education classes at Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution and Two Rivers Correctional Institution.

As a part of the new deal, BMCC no longer negotiates directly with the state prison system to pay for its programs. Instead, the DOC now has an agreement with the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission, which is negotiating contracts with BMCC and the other community colleges that offer adult education courses in state prisons.

Jennifer Black, a communications manager with the department of corrections, explained how the new deal works and how it benefits the DOC.

“The Department of Corrections (DOC) has a signed Interagency Agency Agreement with HECC,” she wrote in an email. “HECC will use the month of February to get contracts in place with the colleges. There was a one-month extension with the community colleges at the new rate. We are pleased that the agreements include increased student contact hours, educational programming at all DOC institutions, and the beginnings of a unified delivery of educational services. DOC remains committed to continued improvements in our education services.”

The change in the way the department of corrections pays for its educational services arose from an announcement over the summer that it intended to let its contracts with the community colleges expire in January so that it could take the program in-house.

The community colleges that served those prisons objected, and after initially reaffirming its decision, DOC returned to the negotiating table.

BMCC and the other community colleges still found themselves at a disadvantage when DOC accepted the lowest possible offer out of a wide range of options. Moving forward with that offer meant that Blue Mountain would see its annual contract decrease from $3 million to $1.25 million.

BMCC President Dennis Bailey-Fougnier said the college is using its expanded negotiating window to work with its unions to try to minimize layoffs.

As it stands currently, Bailey-Fougnier estimates the college will need to eliminate one or two administrative positions and as many as three faculty positions.

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