The Oregon Department of Corrections is weighing ending its connections to community colleges across the state and proposing to move its education program in-house because of a budget shortfall.
The DOC currently contracts with six community colleges in Oregon to provide high school diploma equivalency services to inmates across its 14 facilities.
Department of Corrections communications manager Jennifer Black told Oregon Public Broadcasting that DOC is proposing the contracts be phased out and the agency hire back those positions as part of the DOC permanent budget going forward.
She said nearly 1,000 inmates were enrolled in the Adult Basic Skill Development program as of Sept. 30.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, contractors were unable to enter the institutions and ABS (Adult Basic Skills) programming could not be adapted and continued during operation modifications,” she said. “Converting contractor funding to DOC staff positions will allow the department to continue ABS programming during other disasters or operational restrictions.”
DOC director Colette Peters sent a letter about the situation this week to Cam Preus, executive director of the Oregon Community College Association.
ODOC was already experiencing a projected budget shortfall of $110 million before the pandemic, Peters wrote, which has resulted in $25 million in layoffs and other cost-cutting measures.
Peters said that DOC staff met with Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario to discuss the idea of the six colleges working together to create a proposal standardizing services.
“Treasure Valley was clear that such a proposal would not be forthcoming,” Peters wrote. “It was stated unequivocally during those meetings that the colleges are independent institutions and that the dynamics between colleges would not result in a unified proposal.”
DOC has now presented the community college association with requirements in order to continue the relationship. Those requirements include standardizing education programming hours across institutions, offering programming year-round and uniformly structuring and allocating compensation as a percentage of an institution’s capacity.
Preus said Friday that the six community colleges currently working with DOC are working to respond to Peters’ letter.
The Oregon Education Association, the statewide teachers’ union, is asking the DOC to reconsider the potential move to an in-house education program.
— The Associated Press