By DIANE R. CHODAN
OBSERVER Staff Writer
CASSADAGA - Job Corps throughout the United States have received news that the enrollment freeze imposed on Jan. 28 has been lifted. There are about 125 centers nationwide, 97 managed by private contractors and 28 through the Department of Agriculture (U.S. Forestry Service).
Enrollments are again being taken at the Cassadaga Job Corps for young people 16-24 for programs including carpentry, plumbing, painting, electrical, certified nurse assistant and licensed practical nursing. An enrollment freeze was previously effect.
Locally, this action impacts Cassadaga Job Corps Academy. The Cassadaga Center is run by a contractor, Career Development System Corporation.
A short statement issued by the center to the press said in part, "In the coming weeks we expect to see new students arriving to begin training that will help them secure a brighter future. The Academy welcomes the opportunity to resume student enrollments and working towards rebuilding to full capacity. At the current time there are approximately 150 students at the Academy training in their career pathways. The Academy will be aiming to build back up to 215 students, which is full capacity."
The site employs about 120 people.
After contact with Congressman Tom Reed's (R-NY-23) office, the following statement was released: "Cassadaga Job Corps provides our local youth with valuable job training programs so that our future workforce is equipped with the skills that are in demand. We've been supportive of their work and had an opportunity to tour the Chautauqua County facility and see firsthand the important role Cassadaga's Job Corps plays in our local economy. The announcement that the enrollment freeze ended early is encouraging news to the students, their families, and the community as a whole."
Nevertheless, questions remain.
When the freeze was put into effect, the reason given by the federal Department of Labor was a need to achieve savings. The Job Corps office reported a $39 million shortfall for program year 2011 and a $61.5 million shortfall in program year 2012.
A hearing of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety held on March 12 and chaired by Senator Robert P. Casey Jr. (D- Pa.) heard testimony from Jane Oates, assistant secretary of employment and training administration from the United States Department of Labor; Antoine Dixon, national director of Job Corps for the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service (a federal agency that operates 28 centers) and Elliot Lewis, assistant inspector general for audit, United States Department of Labor. The three officials were questioned by Senators Casey, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Johnny Isakson (D-Ga.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.)
In her testimony, Oates admitted the shortfall wasn't immediately recognized, but pointed out that numbers for the program year are not available until after the year. She also detailed the review of the options undertaken and cuts that had been made to reduce costs - including cutting of stipends paid to the students, reduction of separation pay, changes in clothing allowance, changes to leases and centralizing the vehicles used by centers.
She also indicated that contracts with the operators were being renegotiated.
Testimony by Lewis indicated that several audits were under way. He also explained that there had been previous audits which indicated problems with oversight and with the contractors themselves. For example, the conclusion reached in one audit of several centers dealing with procurement was "none of the operators received the best value for the $17 million expended."
Another audit found deficiencies in contractors' reports of training related placement. Specifically, 18 percent of 17,000 placements did not relate to or were poorly related to the career training the students received.
A report on the lifting of the enrollment freeze from the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader and appearing on Senator Casey's website said that Casey is still looking for more information.
"There are still many unresolved issues to ensure that financial management is improved and the highly successful Job Corps program can serve our communities effectively and efficiently," Casey is quoted as saying.
A spokesperson in Senator Casey's office confirmed that agreements with the contractors are being renegotiated. He recommended contacting the U.S. Department of Labor for further information.
In a statement issued at the time of the freeze Ann M. Anderson, academic director of the Cassadaga Job Corps Academy said, "We first want our community supporters to know that we have operated this Academy with integrity and efficiency, remaining on or slightly under budget through this entire contract period. We have already experienced two enrollment freezes in the past eight months and despite this have operated at 99 percent of our contracted capacity over a 12-month period."
Charles Schumer, U.S. Senator from New York was critical of the enrollment freeze claiming it unfairly punished successful centers and students in Western New York. His office was reached asking for comment on the lifting of the freeze and the shortfall. No statement has yet been received.
Contacted recently, Adam Dolce, business and community liaison, said he could not comment on renegotiation of the contracts because it affects more than just the Cassadaga Center. He also recommended contacting the Department of Labor and provided contact information.
Contacted by email, the Regional Director for Public Affairs, U.S. Department of Labor (New England - New York - Puerto Rico - U.S. Virgin Islands), indicated he received the request for information, that he was forwarding it to Washington, D.C. and that he would relay the information back when received. In addition, he noted there was a fire in the Francis Perkins Building in Washington D.C. that might impact the response time.
Meanwhile Cassadaga Job Corps Academy is now able to take new enrollments. Those interested should call Mike Pietrkiewicz at (716)595-4298. Tours are conducted every Thursday at 10 a.m. or by appointment.
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