July 25, 2013

Demise of Maine jobs program leads to finger-pointing

The Department of Corrections and Jobs for Maine Graduates each says the other chose not to continue the contract.

By Noel K. Gallagher ngallagher@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

This much is clear: After roughly a dozen years, the Jobs for Maine Graduates program at Maine's two juvenile detention centers has ended.

What's not so clear is why the program, which provides job training to at-risk youth, came to an end.

Representatives from both the Department of Corrections facilities and Jobs for Maine Graduates each say the other party chose not to continue the contract, which ended June 29. The two facilities are Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland and Mountain View Youth Development Center in Charleston.

"We had a strong relationship with JMG. JMG decided they didn't want to carry on with their contract. It was their decision not to renew. They had good programs and we appreciated their service," Mountain View Superintendent Jeff Morin said in a statement issued through a spokesman. The Department of Corrections last month signed a contract with Goodwill Industries for the same services.

But the head of Jobs for Maine Graduates, an Augusta-based nonprofit, said the Department of Corrections did not renew the contract because of budget issues and a change in leadership at the two facilities.

"It's definitely those two things," Jobs for Maine Graduates President and Chief Executive Officer Craig Larrabee said.

Each side has its version of events.

"There were some staffing issues raised with Jobs for Maine's Graduates after which JMG decided they and the Maine Department of Corrections were not a good fit. And JMG chose to part company," the department's director of special projects, Scott Fish, said in a written statement. Fish declined to elaborate on the specifics.

The juvenile detention programs are a small part of Jobs for Maine's Graduates' overall mission, which serves about 4,500 students a year from grades 6-12, in 71 programs throughout Maine, mostly at high schools.

The juvenile detention programs operate differently, Larrabee said, since the youths come and go according to their sentences, with some there for just a few weeks or months and others for years. Many are not allowed to leave to work.

But Larrabee said the curriculum is very similar to the school program and teaches them skills they'll need once they leave, such as how to write a resume, conduct a job search or handle a job interview.

"I think it's a shame that they killed the program," said Bill Linnell, who was the Jobs for Maine's Graduates program manager at Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland for three years before he left in 2012. "JMG was one of the strongest voices that advocated for the kids and is probably needed at Long Creek as much or more than at any other school in the state."

The Department of Corrections signed a contract on June 25 that turns the Long Creek job training program over to Goodwill Industries of Northern New England, which is being paid $66,000 a year, the same amount as Jobs for Maine's Graduates' most recent contract with Long Creek. The contract ends on June 30, 2014.

Fish said the department struck the one-year contract with Goodwill, instead of putting out a request for proposals in an open-bidding process, because of time constraints. The contract will be open to all bidders next year, according to the contract.

A section of the paperwork that asks why a sole bidding process is being used said, "There is no agency that (is) providing this service as comprehensively as Goodwill throughout the state and throughout the nation." Another section says: "It would take another contractor at least 3 months to hire staff, train staff, and get them in the field to provide job development and job training."

There is no mention of Jobs for Maine Graduates in the document.

Jobs for Maine's Graduates, an Augusta-based nonprofit, has been operating a program at Long Creek for about 12 years, and at Mountain View for about 10 years, Larrabee said.

The contracts at both facilities were for about $60,000 a year, covering 100 percent of the cost of the program, including a full-time Jobs for Maine's Graduates program manager. Most of its programs are in public schools, where the cost is split between the local school district, Jobs for Maine's Graduates and private funding.

Larrabee said the end of the program in the detention centers wasn't a complete surprise. For the last "six or seven years" the contract has been in jeopardy because of tight state budgets, he said.

New superintendents are now in place at both juvenile corrections facilities, and they are in the process of determining whether they need the program, he said.

"It's a natural stoppage of the partnership right now," Larrabee said Tuesday, before being told that Goodwill took over the job training program. "If I was in their position, I'd want to assess internal capacity before going out and hiring a third party. If there are inner resources, then from a taxpayer's perspective, they should be doing that."

"Personally, I hope we do get the opportunity to work with Corrections in the future," Larrabee said.

Linnell said Long Creek officials were already starting to phase in having corrections employees to do similar work about a year before he left.

Linnell said he generally worked with about 100 young people a year through the Long Creek program, with as many as 10 of them working off site.

Jobs for Maine's Graduates has an annual budget of $7 million, with $2.7 million coming from private funds, $2.6 million in state Department of Education funds, and $1.7 million from local school district funds. In the last legislative session, an additional $600,000 for the program proposed by the LePage administration was not approved. 

Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

ngallagher@pressherald.com

 

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