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Wastebook shines light on dysfunction at North Texas Job Corps Center

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has released the 2014 edition of his annual Wastebook. Number 87 in the report is the $1.7 billion spent annually on the Job Corps program. The Job Corps program has 125 centers nationwide, most of which are operated by private contractors.

The program, a Great Society relic that turns 50 this year, has had a number of centers in the news for the wrong reasons, including one in Coburn’s home state of Oklahoma. The Wastebook also highlighted the North Texas Job Corps Center in McKinney, which had previously been scrutinized by MyFoxDFW in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The release of the Wastebook also heralded a report by CBS News on the North Texas center.

MyFoxDFW reported on their investigation of the Job Corps center in McKinney in August, including interviews of former employees of the center. The former head of security there, Michael Jamison, had once been a Chicago police officer before retiring. He described the center as a Third World country, saying to MyFoxDFW “There are no rules, no laws that these students or the administration obeys.”

Included in the video was student footage of a student cutting up, on his desk, a white powder that seems to be cocaine. This video was reported to a guidance counselor, and from there to the administration. Despite the center’s attested zero-tolerance policy on drugs and weapons, posted on signs at the center, the student was told instead to delete the video. Jamison made a recommendation for termination of the student, but instead the student was allowed to stay in the program before going AWOL and leaving entirely.

This toleration of open drug use violates not only the zero-tolerance policy, which mandates immediate expulsion for any drugs or weapons charges, but also an agreement made with McKinney police that “The center will contact police regarding any illegal narcotics, assaults or serious offenses.”

Instead of terminating students, the North Texas Job Corps Center ran an amnesty program. Jamison said that “I was brought in and asked to flush those drugs, told you better not call police. This is federal property we are talking about, and we are running amnesty. Does that sound right? We are running amnesty!” His objections led him to complain to his employer and recommend that more students violating the attested drug policy be terminated. Instead, the center terminated him.

Former teacher Teresa Sanders even took the misconduct to the federal government, contacting Congressmen and even the President. She ended up quitting. In speaking with MyFoxDFW, she said “The culture of the center is to keep them on center, and the easiest way to do that is to let them do whatever they want to do.”

The unadulterated presence of drugs brings violence to the center as well. Employees told MyFoxDFW that assaults were a common occurrence happening every week and sometimes every day. Jamison said that “Those 21 months, I saw more students being attacked than I ever saw during my whole police career.” Jamison himself was attacked by one student. Other teachers, like Kimberly Dillard, resigned due to violence.

The Fox investigation also unearthed a number of students with criminal records and prison sentences for drugs, theft, assault and other crimes. The police were never called for any of these assaults; some students were jumped in the classrooms themselves.

A second part to the investigation looked into the suspicious graduation rates of the students at the center. Teresa Sanders alleged fraud and cheating, noting one student that had normal progress between grades until May 2014, when he completed his junior and senior year work at the center in the span of a week. Sanders says that such progress is impossible, and alleges that someone had to have completed the student’s work for him.

Another student had only completed 45 percent of their trade by late January 2014, before being busted for drugs by police on Feb. 3. His diploma for graduation is dated to Feb. 3, meaning he would have had to have completed over half of his program in the span of less than a week. A former teacher who spoke on condition of anonymity told MyFoxDFW that “I was asked to find a way to finish a kid. Make sure you’ve got this many graduates. I don’t know how to make them graduate, make them graduate. If someone else has to sit with that mouse and click A, click B, click C, click D.  It does not matter who does it.”

CBS News looked into the North Texas Job Corps Center on CBS This Morning on October 22. They interviewed former career advisor Dean Tinnell, who said that about 85 percent of the job placements touted by the center were, in fact, fake. Managers set job placement goals of 75 percent or higher, and there were monthly bonuses of up to $1,150 contingent on how many students got placed in jobs. Tinnell said that teachers often struggled with these goals and end up faking the job placements, himself included. He was fired for doing so, but noted that “I mean, I feel like it wasn’t right, but then what could you do when you have the upper management tellin’ you to do it?”

CBS News also covered allegations and complaints from 15 other Job Corps centers across the country. Department of Labor deputy assistant secretary Mason Bishop spoke to CBS and said the program continues to suffer these continuing issues, and said further that “If there is fraud in the reporting of the numbers, then that framework puts the whole program into question, that’s a very serious problem.”

Private contractors were paid to run these job centers; for the North Texas center, the operators were paid $45,000 taxpayer dollars per student, which helps explain why they wanted to keep students in school despite criminal behavior. This program costs taxpayers more per student than a four year program at the University of Texas would.

Career Opportunities Inc. was contracted to operate the North Texas center, and spending reports showed administrators made six-figure salaries, according to MyFoxDFW. Their hiring brought changes to the way the center was operated, according to security manager Ed Hall.

He said that the center was switched to a system by which students were supposed to be retained above all else, including criminal concerns, and that “The students quickly figured out that staff’s hands were tied and they could do pretty much a lot of things they wanted to do.” Hall also said that “These students leave right from our program and go right out and fail, just that quick.”

After the first MyFoxDFW report, Department of Labor officials visited the site. On August 12th, the Department of Labor suspended enrollments until October 31st. On August 19th, the Department of Labor opted not to renew the contract with Career Opportunities for the third year option starting Nov. 1, according to MyFoxDFW.

In September, the Dallas Business Journal reported that the center itself was laying off 240 workers, and that Fluor Federal Solutions, which was also connected with the center and whose contract was also not renewed, was laying off 79 people with positions connected to the facility. These layoffs are effective on Oct. 31st.

In the most recent ranking by the Department of Labor, the center in McKinney ranked 112th out of 125.

Featured image from Shutterstock

Brad Matthews

Brad Matthews is the Digital Content Coordinator intern for Watchdog Wire. Twitter is @bradmatthewsDC

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Categories: Budget and Finance, Labor / Unions, Must Read, Policy, Waste, Fraud and Abuse

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