By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Although Muller received a job offer from the California couple, he turned it down, believing the school would provide him with more promising opportunities. But the fact that he preferred a job in Florida could limit his potential, Starkey said, as did the fact that he was gay. "Your partner is a liability to you," he remembers her telling him. "It may be a problem bringing your partner into the work environment. A lot of these principals are very conservative. They may have a problem with that." Muller resented being punished for his long-term relationship — until he heard that he wasn't the only one feeling the heat from Starkey, who'd branded some of his classmates as downright unplaceable.
Natasha Madison says Starkey criticized her for putting her husband and child over placement opportunities. Karen Murphy, a native of Ireland who lives in France, says Starkey told her she was unplaceable because, contrary to what the admissions staff had said, the school couldn't place non-citizens. And even if she could find her a job, Murphy remembers Starkey saying, it wouldn't work out because "us Americans are much softer people than you Europeans." Another student was informed that he was too young for a job; several were told they didn't have enough experience. "When I originally called the school and asked, 'I don't have a degree and don't have any experience, can you place me?,' they pretty much guaranteed I would have a job," says Sullivan. "Now I have graduated and I haven't even had an interview."
Starkey blames the difficulties experienced by Muller's classmates — both in and out of school — on the students themselves. "I had a very negative class. And it was spurred by Mr. Muller," says Starkey, who declines to answer more detailed questions.
"What we determined was that because she didn't have placement opportunities, she turned it around and said many of us were not placeable," counters Muller.
"Starkey says she has hundreds of placements a year," says Bartels, the former head of placement. "That is not true. She would count people placed who were already in the military, who were client-sponsored, or who got jobs on their own or through another agency. During my tenure, I would say we had at least over half, maybe a 70 percent placement rate. And those placements didn't happen right away after graduation."
Another former placement employee is less optimistic. "When I was at Starkey, I'd say we placed 60 percent," she says, "and that may even be a little high."
"We had a lot of unemployed candidates at any given time," says the former placement specialist. "Basically, they would count people placed if they found themselves a job."
Julie Manning attended a new, one-month personal-assistant training program at Starkey in March. When she graduated, she says, Starkey told her that she'd have to find work on her own because she wanted to stay in town. "She said she really didn't do much work in Denver," Manning recalls, "so if I wanted to stay in Denver, she would suggest I run an ad on Craigslist or Monster."
By the time Muller and his classmates filed into the Starkey Mansion's living room in late February for their graduation ceremony, no one had yet officially lined up a job through Starkey — which is why the class had planned a subtle coup d'état. Muller, always the spokesman, gave an upbeat yet uninspired speech, then prepared to unveil the class picture. The photo, which would be placed on the main staircase wall alongside those of other classes, included a class slogan. Muller and his colleagues had thought back on their time at Starkey International and decided on the perfect motto. Now, in front of the school's faculty, employees and guests, Muller revealed it: "A Clockwork à l'Orange."
Amid muffled snickers from the audience, Muller returned to his seat. Starkey, puzzled, turned to him. "Wasn't that a really disturbing movie?"
Muller smiled back. "Yes ma'am, it was."
Skip Muller is now a Starkey International success story. He recently took a job on a fine-arts mega-yacht, acting as a household manager of the seas as he supervises millions of dollars' worth of art traveling from one illustrious East Coast port to the next. He didn't get his position through the school, however, nor does he think his education there will help him serve the needs of the wealthy connoisseurs he'll meet in his new career. "People think they can go through an eight-week course and be able to do this kind of job, but that's not how it works," he says. "People who are going to succeed in this industry don't need the course. It may help them, but as I learned, it's not rocket science."
Starkey reports that four of Muller's twelve classmates ultimately did find work through the school, "three of them in excess of $125,000 a year," she says. "That's unheard of in this profession."
But Starkey has been racking up some other interesting stats.
Since that class graduated, she's been charged in two Denver criminal cases. The first involves Kirkpatrick, who never returned to school. "I have been in pain every day since the incident," says Kirkpatrick, who hopes the school will pay for her medical evaluation and treatment, since she doesn't have health care. The second involves Champion, who left Starkey International not long after Muller's class graduated.