Decline in federal money may leave Forest Grove without a training center

While Gov. Ted Kulongoski was giving his state of the state speech last Friday, extolling the benefit of workforce training and the need for more of it in Oregon, a storm cloud was brewing over Forest Grove's Worksource labor training center.

The center, funded by the Oregon Department of Employment, Portland Community College and Worksystems, Inc., a workforce training non-profit, may close next year, leaving the 1,000 or so who rely on its services each year in the lurch.

Or maybe it won't.

The confusion comes from mixed signals being fired by the city of Forest Grove and Worksystems. Forest Grove says that under a restructuring plan that Worksystems has proposed, funding for the Forest Grove center would disappear.

But Worksystems executive director Andrew McGaugh says that if the city is concerned about the center's future, it should find some community support to fund the site.

'It's unrealistic for us to step in at this late stage and find funding,' said Jeff King, the city's economic development coordinator.

'We're getting confusing messages from Worksystems, Inc., which doesn't help,' King said.

The row developed in early March when King discovered that a 'request for proposal' issued by Worksystems reordered the non-profits service centers in Washington County.

'We're trying to reach out to PCC and Adelante [Mujeres] to see if there's anything that can be salvaged from this RFP process and trying to impress upon Worksystems that there's a need,' King said.

McGaugh doesn't disagree that there's a need. He says the real problem is that funding for workforce development is drying up.

Since 2006, federal workforce funding for Multnomah and Washington counties has fallen from $21.4 million to $16.4 million. On top of that, Worksystems' federal funding took another $1 million hit in this budget cycle, leaving the organization scrambling to make ends meet.

McGuagh said his organization is planning for an extreme worst-case scenario next year, a drop in funding to $8 million in federal funding.

'That's a huge worst case scenario,' McGaugh said.

The state hasn't picked up the slack. According to Worksystems numbers, state funding dropped from around $250,000 a year in 2004 to zero in 2005. Since then, funding hasn't been restored.

'The state and locals don't put a dime into this system. If it's so valuable where are the other partners stepping up to fill the gaps in this dwindling federal environment?' McGaugh asked.

Washington County and the city of Portland are the only two major local backers, kicking down $100,000 a year and $500,000 a year respectively.

'We can't do this alone anymore. We need other partners to step up to the table to continue to provide community-based services,' McGaugh said.

King said the city wants to partner with Worksystems, but said that the process so far has left him feeling like if the city wants a workforce training center it needs to pay for it out-of-pocket.

'So why do we need Worksystems, Inc. if we're going to fund it and we're going to run it?' King asked.

McGaugh said that's not exactly the plan. What the non-profit's RFP asks is that local organizations like Adelante Mujeres or the city of Forest Grove create a proposal for a Forest Grove satellite office with some funding level.

Then, depending on how much federal funding comes in next year, and how the group's award process works, Worksystems may be able to partner with those local groups to provide service.

The RFP also lays out an increased presence in Tualatin, where McGaugh said increases in population and poverty have made the need for training more urgent.

King said the city didn't expect a free ride, but he's doubtful that he can make a successful proposal by the time the RFP closes April 14.

'We understand that whatever has happened, the world has changed but to abandon us in Forest Grove and downtown Hillsboro is just unacceptable,' King said.

'I'm not sure what they want me to do about it,' McGaugh said explainining that reductions in federal funding by the Bush Administration has tied his hands. "It's eight years of an administration that was, frankly, hostile to the notion that the feds had any obligation to provide these services to people."

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