CLEARFIELD — Two longtime vocational instructors say the Clearfield Job Corps Center has gone downhill in the past several years as the operator allegedly focuses more on its financial bottom line.
Randall Harris and Mack White worked a combined 67 years at the 50-year-old local institution, which is run by the Centerville-based Management and Training Corp. (MTC) under contract by the U.S. Labor Department. Both have retired, but allege in the past few years, the center has been plagued by mismanagement, MTC’s intensified focus on profits and a decline in student success and safety.
White, 64, spent 35 years at Job Corps in the culinary arts program and says management reflected an “I don’t care as long as get the money” attitude at the time of his departure.
“They certainly destroyed a good program,” added Harris, 66, of West Haven, who was a welding instructor for 32 years.
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The former employees were reacting to recent news of a lawsuit filed against MTC over the 2014 death of a 17-year-old student, Isela Huerta Carranza, due to complications from diabetes.
Both men said they were not surprised to read about the allegations of lax security and uneven wellness care for students made in the lawsuit, filed by Carranza’s mother Adriana Delaluz.
“In all this time, drugs ran rampant on the center,” Harris said. “It used to be — it was supposed to be — if you got arrested, it was grounds for termination, but now they kept them all.”
Delaluz’s suit accused MTC of negligence in helping Carranza with her insulin regimen and restricting her from leaving campus, which she did the day before she died.
“It didn’t surprise me that they lost someone (Carranza) because once they had people there who knew what to do,” White said. “They had employees who could have helped that kid at one time.”
White said he once had a 16-year-old student going through alcohol withdrawals in his office and management was lackadaisical about dealing with her.
“The public should know about this,” Harris said. “Everybody still there is afraid to blow the whistle.”
DISGRUNTLEMENT AND DISAGREEMENT
MTC has declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding the Carranza suit because it is ongoing litigation but Job Corps and MTC officials say allegations of mismanagement or sacrificing student well-being for profit are untrue.
Informed of the complaints by White and Harris, MTC spokesman Issa Arnita said, “Honestly, those allegations just aren’t true. I don’t know if we’re dealing with disgruntled employees or what.”
For starters, Center Director Gary Vesta, who took over in December 2015 said he has instituted a tough discipline system that goes beyond the minimums required by the Labor Department. Drug and alcohol possession or use or criminal acts bring automatic dismissal, he said.
Harris retired a month after Vesta took over; White left the job in 2013.
Another contested issue between current officials and the former teachers is how students are pushed through the programs.
Harris and White, who freely admitted to feeling “disgruntled,” say Clearfield Job Corps’ glory days ended with the retirement of MTC founder Robert Marquardt.
Marquardt founded MTC in 1980, later retired and died in 2012.
“Bob was a good guy. We all liked him and we all did a good job,” White said.
His son, Scott Marquardt, has been company president since 1991 and MTC manages more than two dozen Job Corps centers around the country.
Harris said dictates by management that began in the past decade included “completing the kids out” — granting their vocational certification — whether they were trained and ready to join a workforce or not.
He said managers then demanded minimum numbers of completions per week.
“That’s unheard-of for an open-ended, open-out program,” he said, adding that some MTC managers wanted students in six-month programs to be certified in four.
“Within four months, if you want a job match, that can’t happen,” Harris said of the welding program.
Before, he said, “We were building the program up. We had a lot of success with kids, putting them in welding jobs and they were keeping them.”
White said a similar scenario played out in culinary arts.
“Those students needed to spend more time there and learn,” he said. “You couldn’t teach anybody everything in six months.”
The men said they suspected the more completions are logged, the more money MTC makes under its Labor Department contract.
“They are covering this up,” Harris said. “The completions of well-trained students are nowhere near what they should be.”
Tried-and-true instruction methods were also not credited by management in recent years, White said.
“It started when the old-timers that owned MTC started dying off,” he said, and their successors “didn’t want to hear about what the old guys had to say. We took our jobs seriously.”
White acknowledged he was set in his ways.
“And they started riding me, and I have a bad heart,” he said, which led to him quitting in 2013.
JOB CORPS CITES HIGH SUCCESS RATES
Arnita disputed their claims, saying each student is evaluated in terms of his or her academic or vocational status.
Celeste McDonald, an MTC vice president, said 90.8 percent of the Clearfield center’s graduates were placed in jobs, higher education or the military in 2015.
Under its Labor Department contract, MTC is reimbursed for its direct costs — food, housing, clothing, etc. — as outlined in the budget. The center also is paid a flat fee per month. There’s no per-completion incentive in the contract, she said.
However, McDonald and Vesta said, the center and its instructors are held accountable for performance as it relates to student success, and as a result, instructors are pushed to perform well. A poorly performing center can lose its federal contract.
McDonald said MTC has a profit margin “in the low single digits” for the Clearfield center.
Once a student is onto a vocational training path, “they’ve got certain things to be checked off,” Arnita said. “There are X number of standards,” depending on the trade. The average Job Corps stay is 8-10 months, with most a mixture of academics and then vocational training, Arnita said.
“Once in a technical career program the end goal of Job Corps is jobs trained, certified and placed.”
But White and Harris aren’t convinced.
“I saw it go through good times and bad times,” he said of the center. “When I left it was the worst I’ve ever seen. It’s a great program but the people they hire to run it make it a bad program. They got so that the students were just a commodity, not people. It’s all about money.”
Added Harris, “What they’re doing is wrong. It is a disservice to the students, those that want to be there.”
You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 801 625-4224.