Job Corps cuts questioned

Jennifer Learn-Andes

February 2, 2013

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey has asked the Inspector General's Office to review financial issues that led to an enrollment freeze at Job Corps centers across the state and country.

The Democrat from Scranton announced his investigation request to the news media Friday morning after touring the Keystone Job Corps in Butler Township, one of four facilities in Pennsylvania providing education and job training to disadvantaged young adults ages 16 through 24.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced last month it was freezing all new enrollments at 125 Job Corps centers nationwide due to a $60 million budgetary shortfall in 2012

In Pennsylvania, the freeze will cause more than 400 layoffs and impact 1,300 prospective students, officials said.

Keystone Job Corps' enrollment would be less than half of its current 600, which would require an estimated 80 or 90 staff cuts, officials said.

Casey questioned why the Labor Department is not answering his questions about program finances. In his letter to the Inspector General, Casey said he is deeply troubled by the cuts and the program's second year of a major financial shortfall.

This kind of repeated problem raises serious questions about the management by the department, he wrote.

An investigation should take weeks or a few months, he said, and the answers might allow the Labor Department to develop a plan to turn this around.

During the press conference, Mary Ann Kislan, an office administrator/instructor at Keystone, said at-risk young adults from Pennsylvania and other states have left the center prepared for the workforce.

The program offers training in more than a dozen fields, including culinary arts, plumbing, office administration and security. Without this program, it would be very difficult for them to find jobs, said Kislan, a 35-year Keystone employee.

Kislan said employees are taking the potential staff cuts in stride.

We are not happy with what's happening, but we come in every day, she said. We do what we need to do, and we are making sure that these students are employed when they leave here or they get their GED or high school diploma.

Keystone student Derrick Cokley, who is studying to become a clinical medical assistant, said the facility's students volunteer for many area community service projects.

West Hazleton Mayor Frank Schmidt said Keystone students saved the financially distressed borough tens of thousands of dollars by repairing borough-owned properties.

Donna Palermo, president of the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce, said Keystone is a crucial element to our community.