With layoffs looming, AT&T has been offering courses for employees exploring second careers--including "floraculture" instruction in the company's own cafeteria. The course, given by a local occupational school, was represented as a state-approved program taught by licensed instructors and promised to deliver a diploma and good job prospects in the floral industry.
On December 15, AT&T even hosted a graduation ceremony for the students, where John Glau, director of the state Division of Private Occupational Schools, was introduced as "the man who made this all possible" by certifying Columbine College for Floral Design and Horticulture.
But the bloom is off the rose.
State and federal agencies investigating alleged financial improprieties at Columbine have suspended all government-backed student loans--the lifeblood of such schools--for eighteen months. State and school officials are now negotiating what steps Columbine might take to get back into the state's good graces.
According to one state official, who asked to remain anonymous, such steps could include getting rid of the school's controversial director and having Columbine agree to repay loans and grants given to students during its two and a half years of existence. Otherwise, students could still be held responsible for making payments on loans already received, even if they can no longer afford to attend the school.
Or if those loans are forgiven, taxpayers could be left holding this particular bag of manure.
In addition, Columbine is being investigated by Denver, state and federal tax authorities, according to officials at those agencies, who decline to reveal the nature of the investigations.
That there are complaints about Columbine should come as no surprise to Glau, whose agency licenses occupational schools and checks to make sure they are following regulations. Former students and instructors say they complained to Glau about conditions at Columbine but claim he ignored their criticisms because he's a friend of both Columbine's owner and its director.
Glau denies that charge and says he's launched his own investigation into the school.
Columbine College for Floral Design, located in the Lakeside Mall, is owned by Roger Hartman, who also owns Columbine Beauty College and Wheat Ridge Beauty College. According to Marshall Smith, a compliance manager with the Colorado Student Loan Program, CSLP's investigation is focusing on the floral school and its director, Peter Schlosser, who owned the school in its two previous incarnations: Design Floral School and Intermountain College.
In 1993 Intermountain suddenly closed its doors. "One night the computers for the business program just disappeared," says a former instructor who asked not to be named. "The next morning the doors were locked."
Schlosser sold the school to Hartman, who renamed it Columbine College for Floral Design and Horticulture--and then named Schlosser its director.
Schlosser is the subject of many of the complaints about Columbine. His critics say that he listed business courses in the catalogue that were never offered, that he screamed at students and teachers, and that he refused to pay instructors in a timely manner. The teacher of the AT&T course contends she paid Schlosser $50 and filled out the necessary paperwork to be licensed with the state, but the state has no record of her license.
Columbine's national accreditation and state certification, which make its students eligible to apply for government loans, is dependent on having licensed instructors certified by the state. Financial aid, sometimes in the form of outright grants or government-backed low-interest loans, is dependent on students completing a program of at least 600 hours in length. Columbine qualified by adding a 150-hour internship to its program.
But the investigations also are looking into students' claims that they weren't given promised internships. And, sources say, some student "internships" consisted of nothing more than sweeping floors and cleaning at the school.
After making repeated requests for an internship assignment, student Julie Rauh got so frustrated she started volunteering at a friend's floral shop. "I was told lack of staff and office disorganization was the reason for no placement," Rauh wrote in a February 18 letter sent to CSLP investigators (and copied to Glau). "The school gave me a signed diploma to help in any job search. I reminded them that a job placement did not qualify or replace the 150-hour internship program. Without the internship program, the floral college does not qualify for state financial aid."
Former instructor Penny McAnally, who says she quit when Schlosser refused to pay her, claims she was told to fudge student internship hours. She also says she saw falsified internship forms with forgeries of her signature.
Other teachers told investigators that they'd been asked to alter records to indicate that students attended school--and therefore were eligible for financial-aid checks--when they actually were on extended leaves of absence. Although any checks that came in during that time should have been returned, the teachers claim Columbine cashed them.
Former instructors say they were told to change attendance records and grade-point averages so that students would remain eligible for financial aid. In one case, several sources charge, a mother was allowed to take the entrance exams and fill out financial-aid forms for her mentally handicapped daughter so that both could attend the school on government loans.
Sheila Davis originally applied to Columbine in 1995 and used her 1994 income-tax form to qualify for financial aid. But an injury prevented her from starting classes until January of this year. In the meantime, she had gotten married, so she updated her forms to indicate her change in financial status. "I was there two weeks when I was asked to change my name on the financial-aid forms back to my maiden name so they could use my 1994 tax returns," she says.
That's when Davis called CSLP to ask if the agency had received any complaints about the school. She then called Glau. "I told himEthat I was trying to decide if I should continue going and commit myself to $3,600 [in tuition] if the allegations I'd been hearing were true," Davis wrote in a March 1 letter she sent to state and federal investigators. "He asked for my name and phone number, which I gave him, but I told him I wanted to remain anonymous."
Glau became indignant, Davis says, and told her that he personally knew Roger Hartman, the owner of the school, and that Hartman was an ethical businessman. "I told him of the allegations of teachers being asked to falsify attendance and grade records for the financial aid," she wrote. "I told him how they had handled my financial-aid records and that I suspected what they tried to get me to do was illegal. He really got mad then and said, 'Of course, it isn't illegal. Do you think Roger would risk having his school closed down over you?'"
Glau told her he believed the allegations were coming from Jan Coons, a former assistant director at the school, Davis says. Schlosser had fired Coons in October, but she'd been reinstated by Hartman after a dozen of her students threatened to walk out. Coons resigned from the school in January, giving five weeks' notice at Schlosser's request. When he fired her two weeks later, she sued the school for wrongful termination.
"Glau said he didn't believe that there were problems," Davis's letter concluded. "He just said, 'Look, I'm not going to be a part of this' and hung up on me."
Five minutes later, Hartman called Davis at home--despite her request to Glau that she remain anonymous. He, too, blamed any problems on Coons, Davis says.
Davis mailed copies of her letter to Representative Pat Schroeder; Dwayne Nuzum, the executive director of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, which oversees Glau's division; and to Glau himself. Schroeder's office passed Davis's letter and about a dozen more the congresswoman had received about Columbine to Nuzum; Nuzum sent them on to Glau.
"He will be investigating the complaints," Nuzum says of Glau. Asked why he would turn the investigation over to someone who was named as part of the problem, Nuzum replies, "We expect our people to perform their duties with integrity."
Asked about Davis, Glau first says he doesn't know her, then remembers that he talked with her for about ten minutes. And although initially he denies having seen Davis's letter, he adds, "I never hung up on her." He says he has no social ties to Hartman or Schlosser.
Schlosser refers all questions to Hartman. The school's owner denies that there are problems at Columbine or that he has a personal friendship with Glau. "It's all business," Hartman says.
But McAnally says that just before the AT&T graduation ceremony, Schlosser introduced Glau to her as "a personal friend."
And Coons says that before she had a falling out with the school's director, she received a call from Schlosser. The Caller ID gadget on her phone identified the call as coming from Glau's number. "Peter [Schlosser] told me he was going on vacation the next day and that Glau was taking him to the airport," Coons says.
This isn't the first time Glau has been accused of being too close to the people he and his agency are supposed to be supervising. Nor is it the first time he's blamed problems on disgruntled employees and students.
In 1988, Sylvia Westbrook, a student at the Colorado College of Medical and Dental Careers, made a complaint to what was then the Colorado Community College and Occupational Education System. "Doctors in Denver are telling us that we are learning outdated methods," the medical assistant student wrote, "and that these will prove worthless when we are working in the field."
Westbrook also complained that the school lacked proper equipment and the labs were filthy. The agency sent investigator John Glau to check into the situation; he gave the school a clean bill of health.
Last year Glau told Westword that Westbrook "was a troublemaker and didn't just want money. She wanted a pound of flesh." He noted that the school refunded her tuition money following the investigation.
But in a lawsuit against the school that was settled this fall, a group of dental-assistant students complained of conditions much like those Westbrook had cited ("Tooth or Consequences," August 23, 1995). The students said the school had cleaned up its act just before Glau's inspection and contend that officials there might have been warned he was coming.
When the state Division of Private Occupational Schools was spun off as its own agency in 1990, Glau was appointed director. That put him in charge of licensing and supervising over 200 occupational schools in Colorado. One of those schools was Barnes Business College, which suddenly closed its doors last summer, much to the surprise of students, faculty members and most education officials. But not Glau. His agency was responsible for tracking the school's financial statement, and he admitted last fall that he'd been aware the owner was trying to sell the school. Instead, it shut down overnight, leaving students in the lurch.
Graduates of AT&T's floral course may find themselves in similar straits. The two-hour-per-week, forty-week course was described in its own literature as a "diploma programE that will give you a recognized credential in the floral industry that will assist you in applying for a number of jobs." Those job possibilities included working in flower shops, greenhouses and as a "wedding consultant."
But even Glau concedes that the diplomas handed out at the ceremony technically are recognized only by Columbine and are not proof of having completed an accredited program.
McAnally charges that Glau's attendance at the graduation lent the AT&T course credibility it didn't deserve. But Glau says it isn't unusual for him to speak at school graduation ceremonies. "I've even given graduation speeches," he says. "If that's a breach of some ethics rule, then I'm guilty."
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Alice Cottrell, who heads the continuing-education program for AT&T employees, says her company is satisfied with Columbine. "In fact, classes are ongoing," she says. "We wouldn't be doing it if we weren't getting the services we expected." Cottrell adds that she's aware of the controversy surrounding the school. "But we're only a customer and not in the middle of it," she notes.
Man-in-the-middle Glau says he's investigating charges that students may have received Columbine diplomas before completing the necessary number of hours. "And I expect we'll see that record-keeping was unacceptable," he says. In the meantime, Glau says, CSLP investigators are looking into allegations of financial-aid violations, and the federal investigators "are looking for fraud."
Any complaints about his role, he says, came as a complete surprise. "But, of course," Glau adds, "if the allegations are being made against a state employee, they have to be true. Don't they