NAMPA — On Monday, the Idaho Department of Labor will assume operational control of the Centennial Job Corps Conservation Center in Nampa, but some officials are concerned about what this will mean for the students.
The center is currently federally run through the U.S. Department of Agriculture by the U.S. Forest Service and serves over 280 students. The students, ages 16 to 24, are working toward their GED or other job certifications.
Idaho is slated to become the first state to assume management of a federal job corps center, the U.S. Department of Labor announced in December.
But as that July 1 transfer date gets closer, the National Federation of Federal Employees is raising concerns, saying the state-run center will accommodate fewer students and cut 77 staff positions.
"Centennial is a model top-tier, taxpayer-friendly job training center that helps disadvantaged young people find their way in the world, and it brings jobs and revenue to the regional economy," the federation's president, Randy Erwin, said in a press release. "The State of Idaho wants to throw all of that away because someone has their eye on the Centennial center land. It’s unreal, and it’s extremely unfair to the students, staff and local businesses that rely on Centennial."
Starting Monday, the Idaho Department of Labor will start operating the job corps center using a federal grant. The College of Western Idaho will provide skills instruction. The program, called the Idaho JOBCorps Program, will provide a similar service: help train students to enter the workforce.
In the first full grant year, the Idaho JOBCorps Program will serve up to 50 residential students and up to 100 non-residential students through CWI. Before the transfer was announced late last year, the Centennial center housed 241 of its students on campus, according to NFFE spokeswoman Brittany Holder.
In the second and third years of the grant, the program will expand to an additional 150 non-residential students annually at other community colleges in Idaho.
By the end of the three years, the program is slated to serve 750 students overall, Idaho Department of Labor Director Jani Revier said. All of those students will be from Idaho, which differs from the Centennial program.
There are no students left living in the Centennial facility, Revier said. After the announcement in December, she said Centennial staff stopped recruiting students. The remaining students who would not complete their education by the time the facility was transferred to the Department of Labor were given the option to transfer to one of the other Job Corps centers across the country, she said.
In terms of staff cuts, Revier said the Idaho JOBCorps program will likely employee fewer employees than Centennial. She did not know exactly how many employees the state program will use. She said details are still being worked out between the Department of Labor and CWI. Revier confirmed that the state program will not use all of Centennial's dorms initially.
The state program will also cut several of the programs currently offered through the U.S. Forest Service, including the Advanced Fire Management Trade Program where students train and serve as wildland firefighters and first responders to other natural disasters, such as floods and tornadoes, according to the National Federation of Federal Employees.
"Centennial trains, equips and provides real-world experience for students at all levels for success in the workforce," Erwin said in the press release. "A community college is not equipped to handle this diversity of capabilities. Many of the students who would have come to Centennial will be forgotten."
In May, the Trump administration announced that it would close nine of the 25 Job Corps centers across the country, and the remaining 16 centers would be transferred to the U.S. Department of Labor to be run through contractors. Centennial was included in the list of 16 centers that would be transferred. However, last week the administration backtracked on closing the centers after facing pressure from lawmakers, according to a Washington Post report.
The Forest Service was planning to lay off about 1,100 employees by September, which could have been the largest number of federal employees cut in a decade. Lawmakers were also concerned with how the closures would affect students.
National Federation of Federal Employees spokeswoman Brittany Holder said when the decision was reversed, federation officials wondered whether that would mean Centennial would remain under federal control. They were disappointed to find out it wouldn't, she said, and they published a press release Thursday to put more pressure on Congress to save the center.