Classes halted at downtown vocational school

January 06, 1994|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Staff Writer

A downtown Baltimore vocational school that has failed to pay its employees for the past month canceled classes yesterday and sent workers and students home.

The closure of the PTC Career Institute, at the corner of Baltimore and Calvert streets, was called temporary. However, the school's parent company, Philadelphia Training Center Corp., appears to be in severe financial trouble and is under investigation by federal officials.

The Baltimore school has about 30 employees. Its 160 students pay between $3,600 and $4,800 for five to seven months' training as nursing assistants, security guards and office computer operators.

Susan Sherwood, the school's director, told students and staff yesterday that classes would be canceled until next Wednesday with the expectation that the parent company might be sold before then.

Two weeks ago, the state of Pennsylvania revoked PTC's operating license after serious financial and management problems at the Philadelphia campus.

In response, the U.S. Department of Education last week barred PTC from offering any federal loans or grants to students at any of its operations or locations, which could mean the end of the school.

About 95 percent of PTC's students receive federal assistance, according to Ms. Sherwood.

The investigation is continuing.

"The department is reviewing new information of serious violations of the law by PTC," said Stephanie Babyak, a spokeswoman for the Education Department in Washington.

A federal audit found that PTC's national operation's liabilities were more than double its assets in 1992.

The company also owed the state of Maryland more than $175,000 in employee withholding taxes, penalties and interest last September, according to the Education Department. Figures on how much had been paid were unavailable yesterday.

Ms. Sherwood, who has been director of the Baltimore campus since 1988, said she believes the problems were mainly caused by the tax evasion convictions of PTC's Philadelphia owners, Richard and Rimona Friedberg, in 1992 and 1993.

"At this point, I don't think we're ever going to be left alone or be successful until the present owners are no longer involved," Ms. Sherwood said.

Efforts to reach the Friedbergs or other PTC officials in TTC Philadelphia were unsuccessful yesterday.

Ms. Sherwood said that PTC may be sold to a New York investment company. But state and federal officials said it is unlikely that a buyer could be found while PTC is barred from receiving federal student aid.

Students interviewed yesterday seemed to know little about the school's financial problems.

"They just told us they were shutting down," said Tishia Pittman, a nursing assistant student. "They don't explain the stuff to us, they just do it."

Ms. Sherwood said no employees have left the school despite not being paid since Dec. 1. "It's been tough," said Ms. Sherwood, who also hasn't been paid. "It's a long time to go without a paycheck."

Officials at the Maryland Higher Education Commission, which regulates PTC and other trade schools, said the state recently secured a $100,000 bond from PTC to cover tuition reimbursements in the event the school closes permanently.

But that is only a third of the $300,000 bond the state demanded. PTC is supposed to deliver the remainder by Feb. 17.

State officials have asked the school for information to determine the amount of tuition reimbursement needed, should the school close permanently.

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