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A 55-year-old federal job training facility in Franklin County is one of nine set for closure nationwide.

According to a notice in the Federal Register, the Cass Civilian Conservation Center, 17 miles north of Ozark, will be deactivated along with similar facilities in Kentucky, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin and Virginia.

The U.S. Department of Labor is accepting public comments until July 1 on the proposed closures.

As of 2016, the Cass campus included 24 buildings on 38 acres.

Twenty-five of the nation's 123 Job Corps centers have been operated as Civilian Conservation Centers by the U.S. Forest Service, which is a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

"Like all Job Corps Centers, the Civilian Conservation Centers train underserved youth for meaningful careers," according to the Forest Service. "In addition to equipping young men and women with an education and career technical skills, Civilian Conservation Centers provide them with conservation and wild-land firefighting skills training and work experience on public lands."

At the Cass center, students can learn welding, bricklaying, carpentry, facilities management, painting, culinary arts and heavy equipment operation, according to cass.jobcorps.gov. They can also work toward their high school degrees.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue sent a letter to Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta on May 24 signifying "the USDA's intent to terminate its role in the Job Corps program."

"As USDA looks to the future, it is imperative that the Forest Service focus on and prioritize our core natural resource mission to improve the condition and resilience of our nation's forests, and step away from activities and programs that are not essential to that core mission," wrote Perdue.

According to a news release from the Department of Labor, "This action creates an opportunity to serve a greater number of students at higher-performing centers at a lower cost to taxpayers by modernizing and reforming part of the Job Corps program."

"Implementation will be done in a way that minimizes impact on students, allowing each student to complete their technical training program or transfer to another center to do so," according to the release.

"The program was all but zeroed out in the president's proposed budget for the next fiscal year," according to The Washington Post.

The Department of Labor reviewed the performance and costs of the centers "to determine the best path forward," according to the news release. Sixteen Civilian Conservation Centers will continue under a new contract operator or partnership overseen by the Department of Labor.

"The move is part of the secretary's goal to make USDA the most effective, efficient and customer-focused department in the entire federal government," Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen wrote in an email to Job Corps employees.

The "transfer of operations" would mostly affect employees who work in the 25 Civilian Conservation Centers across the country, she wrote.

"We will need to permanently transition the Forest Service Job Corps workforce and will seek reduction in force authority to do so," wrote Christiansen. "We will provide more information to all Forest Service Jobs Corps CCC employees about this process as we work with the Department of Labor on a transition. We anticipate this transition will be complete by the end of 2019."

In 2016, the Cass center had 68 employees. At the time, it had 126 students -- 19 girls and 107 boys. Calls to the Cass center were referred to the USDA press office, which responded with a joint statement from the departments of labor and agriculture. It didn't include details about individual centers set for closure.

Since the 30-day comment period began on May 30, comments have been filed by members of Congress, retirees and other interested parties, according to the joint statement. A total of 215 comments had been filed online at regulations.gov as of Tuesday.

On June 5, a bipartisan group of 51 U.S. senators and congressmen sent a letter to the secretaries of agriculture and labor urging them to "reverse their decision to shut down Civilian Conservation Centers and end the program in its current form."

U.S. Sen. John Boozman and U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, both Arkansas Republicans, signed the letter.

"Civilian Conservation Centers have a unique mandate within the Job Corps program to help conserve, develop and manage public natural resources and public recreation areas and respond to natural disasters, including wildfires and hurricanes," according to the letter. "The 25 CCCs operate in 17 national forests and grasslands across 16 states and aim to train over 4,000 youth and young adults, many of whom are at-risk individuals originating from low-income, rural communities. These centers not only help support these underserved youth and young adults with invaluable job training, but they also provide essential capacity for the U.S. Forest Service to fulfill its mission and provide economic opportunities in rural areas."

Kenneth Vaughn of Montross, Va., was a high school teacher at Cass from 2014 to 2017. He was employed there through the Paris School District.

"My experience there was pretty good," said Vaughn. "As far as the whole outcome, it was a great program. But to be honest with you it had been rumored to be closing since the day I got there. They tried a lot of different programs for the kids. If they didn't work, they tried something new."

Vaughn said he taught geography, social studies, history and psychology at Cass. Some students showed little interest. One was a particular problem. He slept in class. Vaughn considered kicking him out of class.

"I started mentoring to him," said Vaughn. "In a few months, he started coming to me and asking questions. He started coming to me with family problems he had. He started buckling down and doing the work. Real smart kid. ... Ended up finishing the program, got his high school diploma. There were success stories."

While he was working at Cass, Vaughn said the chaplain was relieved of his duties and not replaced.

"If there are kids out there in the world who needed spiritual guidance, it was those kids at Cass Job Corps," said Vaughn. "That's when I got a burr up my saddle."

The Job Corps has two centers in Arkansas. The Little Rock center will remain open. It isn't a Civilian Conservation Center.

Comments regarding the closure can also be mailed to Debra Carr, acting national director, Office of Job Corps, U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, 200 Constitution Avenue NW, Room N-4459, Washington, D.C. 20210.

The Federal Register listing is available at federalregister.gov/documents/2019/05/30/2019-11262/job-corps-center-proposal-for-deactivation-comments-requested.

Metro on 06/12/2019

Print Headline: Federal job training center in Arkansas on close list; facility ran for 55 years

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