SALEM — Blue Mountain Community College, Pendleton, and several other community colleges seemingly saved their prison education programs from the chopping block. But it could come at a steep expense.
On Thursday, Nov. 12, the Oregon Department of Corrections sent out word to stakeholders that it was accepting an offer from the Oregon Community Colleges Association to retain contracted adult education services within the state prison system.
But BMCC President Dennis Bailey-Fougnier said the deal still would result in cuts at Blue Mountain’s Corrections Education program, which offers GED classes and other adult education courses at Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in Pendleton, Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla and Powder River Correctional Facility in Baker City.
Bailey-Fougnier said the association, negotiating on behalf of BMCC and five other community colleges across the state, gave the department three options.
The state prison system chose Option 1, which would reduce BMCC’s allocation from $3 million per year to about $1.25 million annually. Bailey-Fougnier said the deal would result in cutting 8-9 positions from the 27 staff that work for the program, among other service reductions.
The other two options represented proposals with higher funding amounts and were considered more feasible by the colleges.
Bailey-Fougnier said both sides will meet again this week and his hope is the colleges will be able to negotiate further and hammer out other details on working conditions, class sizes and how the new contract will be administered.
The Department of Corrections accepting an offer made by the state’s community colleges represents a change in tactics from the state’s prison system.
DOC told community colleges over the summer that it intended to end its contracts with them in favor of moving the majority of its educational programs in-house, a move representatives said would save the department money and offer more consistency to inmates across the system.
Even as the colleges made some concessions, the department rejected an October offer and made plans to move ahead with transitioning education operations internally.
State Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, and Sen. Michael Dembrow, a Portland Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on Education, met with representatives from the corrections department and the colleges. Dembrow and Bailey-Fougnier credited the meeting with breaking the ice, leading to DOC accepting the Nov. 6 offer. But the ball is back in the colleges’ court as BMCC looks to avoid further cuts in a year where it’s already laid off several employees.