Enrollment freeze, layoffs plague local Job Corps Center


Published: Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 5:21 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 5:21 p.m.

In the midst of a contract dispute over who gets to operate the Gainesville Job Corps Center, budget woes on a national level have led to an enrollment freeze and layoffs at the center.

The Department of Labor Employment & Training Administration suspended enrollment at all Job Corps centers nationwide from Jan. 28 to April 22 "to address financial challenges and operate within appropriated funding levels," said Mike D'Aquino, department spokesman.

According to a Senate panel, the program ran a deficit of $60 million, The Washington Post reported. A top Job Corps official attributed the shortfall to budgeting missteps and a lack of senior-level staff members with accounting expertise.

The Job Corps program offers career development education and training to low-income youths ages 16-24. Students come from around the state and live on the campus at the Airport Industrial Park while they are enrolled.

On Jan. 2, Del-Jen, the contractor that operates the Gainesville center, filed a notice with the state that it planned to lay off 128 people at the center on Feb. 28, approximately the entire staff, but the center continued to operate after that date.

Del-Jen Senior Program Director Beverly Lovett said the center did have layoffs, but would not say how many since the company is in the midst of a competitive bidding process to continue operating the center.

Enrollment dropped to about 240 during the freeze after having been as high as 350 students, she said.

D'Aquino said the Job Corps program is working with contractors such as Del-Jen "to reduce administrative costs, re-examine the size of career technical training and academic programs, and implement cost savings recommended by working groups."

Lovett confirmed that the maximum enrollment allowed at the Gainesville center dropped from 350 to 275.

Del-Jen is now trying to rehire for specific jobs and bring students back in, she said.

"There's a lot of uncertainty in the ranks there," said Gerald Zagaiski, board member of SIATech, which operates a high school for students who want to earn a diploma at the center.

"Nobody knows what's happening the next day, so they have a lot of folks looking for employment elsewhere and got their feelers out."

SIATech operates charter schools at 15 Job Corps centers. It also operates the MYcroSchool charter school at 2209 NW 13th St.

SIATech's enrollment at the Gainesville Job Corps Center dropped from about 210 to 127 students, said Alena Lawson, president of the SIATech board.

SIATech has not had to lay off instruction or support staff, which numbers about 11, but will have to unless it increases enrollment since the school relies on per-pupil funding from the state, she said.

To that end, the SIATech board approved moving the charter school off the Job Corps campus to a location near Interstate 75 and Newberry Road so it can start taking students who are not in the Job Corps program.

"Hopefully, we'll have it up and running around August," Lawson said.

Lovett said the Job Corps plans to continue its partnership with SIATech when the charter school moves.

There is still some question about whether Phoenix, Ariz.-based Del-Jen will continue to operate the Gainesville Job Corps Center at that time. In June 2012, the Labor Department awarded a $17.5 million contract to ResCare of Louisville, Ky., to take over operations.

Del-Jen, which has operated the center since 2002, filed a protest. The Government Accountability Office dismissed the protest on Aug. 3.

According to a decision obtained by The Sun in a Freedom of Information Act Request, the Labor Department decided to re-evaluate all bids to make sure they were evaluated in accordance with the bid criteria.

If Del-Jen's bid was determined to be "one of the most highly rated proposals," the company would be given an opportunity to submit a best and final offer, after which the Labor Department would name a new bid award or reaffirm the original award to ResCare.

D'Aquino said the bids were re-evaluated but would not say where the process stands.

Del-Jen's contract was extended through Aug. 31.

Del-Jen's Lovett said the most recent decision was to award the contract to Management & Training Corporation of Centerville, Utah, but that was not a final decision.

Management & Training spokesman Issa Arnita said the labor department notified the company in mid-January that it won the contract and was told a few weeks later that the contract was being protested and is on hold.

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