AUGUSTA – The U.S. Department of Labor has approved a revised reorganization of Maine’s workforce training programs.
Last year, the administration of Gov. Paul LePage had proposed doing away with four regional job-training boards and replacing them with a statewide panel to guide workforce training programs in consultation with chambers of commerce.
The Labor Department rejected that plan, but on Friday approved a new proposal that will give the state the ability to get rid of some, but not all, of the regional boards.
Julie Rabinowitz, a spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Labor, said choosing which boards to shutter will be decided in several months, relying on input from county commissioners around the state.
The membership of the regional boards will also be reconfigured to include a representative from a local chamber of commerce, an appointee of the governor and a regional economic development official.
LePage has argued that a statewide board would be more responsive to input from businesses to determine what job training programs are needed.
Rabinowitz said the federal Department of Labor refused to give LePage the authority to do away with all the boards, but the state can decide to keep as few as one.
The State Workforce Investment Board created by LePage a year ago will also continue to operate with input from chambers of commerce, she said, and will work with regional boards to streamline operations or find other ways to save money.
The original proposal stirred controversy late last year when LePage said the regional boards were working with the federal Department of Labor to kill his reorganization. He cited the release of a draft of a federal Department of Labor letter denying the state’s proposal as proof, noting that the draft had circulated among dozens of members of regional workforce training boards, but had not yet been sent to the state.
How local board officials got the draft has never been explained, but LePage said it was proof of “inappropriate backchannel communication” with the regional boards.
Regional board members claimed the administration was responsible for publicizing the letter to try to deflect attention over the federal denial of LePage’s plan.