MUSCATINE — Iowa's 15 Workforce development boards are in transition. And last week, the Muscatine Board of Supervisors had plenty to say about it.
The U.S. Department of Labor sent a letter Nov. 8 to Beth Townsend, the director of Iowa Workforce Development. The department had conducted a four day review, and the letter included 11 issues that placed the state out of compliance with the requirements of Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and Wagner-Peyser grants which account for much of the funding for the Iowa State Workforce Development Board and the 15 local boards. Muscatine County is in region 9, which also consists of Scott, Jackson and Clinton counties. The duties of the board includes implementation of a 20-year comprehensive workforce development plan, preparation of a five-year strategic plan and establishment of guidelines for awarding grants, according to the board's website.
Among the changes that needed to be made was the addition of a "One-Stop Operator." This position would be responsible for coordinating the service delivery and additional roles established by the local boards. To pay for this service, a model budget gave the position a salary of $100,000.
The estimated cost of running a single board area based on the model budget issued by the Iowa Workforce Development Board was $350,000. While conceptual maps have been issued up to eight areas, based on current funding, only two may be possible.
Jeff Sorensen, district five supervisor, took umbrage with the downsizing of the total number of boards.
"They are talking about consolidating, and I doesn't seem like the law would say that that is what needs to be done," Sorensen said. "It seems to me like a further consolidation of power."
Robert Howard, district one supervisor, said that fewer districts representing more area in the state would mean counties like Muscatine receiving less voice.
"That's a bad thing," Howard said. "We are in an area, as you all well know, that is highly industrial. It's not just farming. I think they need that input and we need to keep that."
Paula Arends, workforce innovation director for IowaWorks and Eastern Iowa Community College, said she did think the current 15 local boards was too many. But she was concerned that a drastic change to the number could translate to a serious drop representation for the needs of some areas.
"Iowa, like other states, is not the same form one end to another," Arends said. "There is a lot of variation and a lot of specific needs and specific industries in each area and having local workforce boards gives us an opportunity to direct funding to meet those needs."
Looking at some of the maps provided — namely the West-East split map — Arends wondered who would be left out.
"When you take a state and split it in half, you really overlook some opportunities," Arends said. "And unfortunately we are overlooking some opportunities that are going to impact with some of our smallest most needy areas."
Currently the regions are loosely organized around the areas serviced by particular community colleges. These colleges have acted as points of service for the local workforce development boards.
"Based on local needs, I don’t think that a two-region state is a viable way to carry out workforce business," Arends said. "Not to say that we can retain 15 regions because that’s probably lofty given the current funding situation. I feel that we should look at some scenarios that are more based in reality and some other options with regard to sharing resources and doing something in a little more of a creative way to meet our needs, rather than taking a huge jump and eliminating 13 regions from the state."
The State Workforce Development Board's realignment committee is looking at the feasibility of the current numerous boards becoming advisory boards. For Arends, this minimized the nuance possible for a back and forth between local and state workforce development.
"Our regional board has individuals from all four counties represented," Arends said. "The value that they add to that table is to make sure that their county’s needs are in the forefront. As we look at projects or we look at investing in resources or approving programs for training we need to make sure we are really meeting their needs. We are going to lose some of that. There is no other way around that."