Starkey International responds to allegations – sort of

Other than a short telephone conversation and a brief formal statement, Mary Louise Starkey, founder and head of the Starkey International Institute of Household Management, declined to answer further questions for “At Your Disservice,” which detailed allegations of shoddy management, questionable educational programs and other turmoil at this Denver-based butler school. Starkey was more forthcoming, however, with the Colorado Division of Private Occupational Schools, which asked her to respond to complaints submitted by two recent Starkey graduates, Skip Muller and Natasha Madison. Here are excerpts from Starkey International’s formal responses, signed by Mark Thulis, the school’s chief of staff:

-Regarding Muller and Madison’s class, the 90th household management class admitted to Starkey: “Class 90 was what educators and private schools periodically experience over the course of years as ‘a negative class.’ Starkey has only experienced one other class such as this many years ago in its 17 years and over 100 individual class offerings… There were many interpersonal relationship issues within the student population which had to be dealt with by the educators and staff on a daily basis; and in the case of one student within this class as many as three issues could arise within a day. Starkey International resolved most of these daily issues, many times to the detriment and fatigue of the staff… At week five of the eight week class, class 90’s negativity turned from being directed towards one student who ultimately dropped out [Lisa Kirkpatrick], to Mrs. Starkey and the Institute.”

-Regarding the quality of the school’s curriculum: “The Starkey Household Management Program is an intensive and interactive household management curriculum which conducts six tracts of information concurrently and integrates them over an eight week period of time. Class 90’s student/teacher radio was 3 instructors to every 12 students; two full time household management instructors and one full time chef.”

-Regarding accusations of an abusive environment at the school and Mrs. Starkey’s alleged assault of Muller and Madison’s classmate, Lisa Kirkpatrick: “We are located in a small 13,000 square foot building, and like a private home voices often travel. However, neither Mrs. Starkey nor any staff member attacked or verbally abused any student. [The complaints allude] to an allegation of assault by Mrs. Starkey on Ms. Lisa Kirkpatrick. This was a very complicated and unfortunate incident resulting from a simple misunderstanding. Mrs. Starkey assaulted no one, however, as this matter is currently in the courts it is not appropriate to discuss the details of the incident further in this forum… As no one was actually present at the incident, it was not felt appropriate to discuss the incident in detail with the students.”

-Regarding an alleged mice infestation: “The alleged mouse infestation… was the appearance of two house mice on January 15, 2007. It probably came about as a result of the complete renovation of our new kitchen.”

-Regarding a purportedly inadequate heating system: “This past winter was the coldest in recent history, with multiple snow-storms which put the heating system through its paces. As 10 students lived on property during this class offering, we did receive a couple of complaints from students both that it was either too cold, or that it was too hot.”

-Regarding accusations of substandard meals: “Fresh breads, fruits, proteins, vegetables and sweets are always available for students… Starkey International does not typically provide individual comfort foods including Cokes, ice cream, potato chips, etc. However, as an act of ‘please no more negativity,’ the Chef made an exception and purchased these additional comfort food items for Class 90 about one half way through the course.”

-Regarding placement opportunities through the school: “Starkey International does have many more available positions than available graduates… From the very beginning of the discernment process it is repeated many times to students both in writing and verbally that placement is not guaranteed… Placement Statistics for Class 90, eleven graduates: Two were employer sponsored and not available for placement; three are highly restricted; one will only work in Las Vegas, Ms. Madison will only work in Austin, Texas, one is illegal to work in the U.S. and currently is a resident of France. Three have recently relaxed their individual placement restrictions and we are seeking placement for them. Three more have already been placed by Starkey.”

The division wasn’t satisfied by Starkey International’s response. On July 27, deputy director Georgia Roberts sent the school a letter asking for additional information, including:

-“Provide a status update on any related criminal (misdemeanor and/or felony) or civil action pending or concluded in respect to [Kirkpatrick’s alleged assault].” (Starkey goes to trial in Denver County Court for the alleged assault on September 14; on September 26 she goes to trial for allegedly assaulting former Starkey International instructor Raymond Champion on a different occasion.)

-“Submit a true and complete list of all known Starkey International graduates who at any time during the three year reporting period of June 1, 2004 through and including June 30, 2007, have been placed in a household service position through placement efforts made by Starkey International and/or through ‘its Job Placement Services division, Starkey & Associates.’”

-“…on the Starkey International website it states that ‘Each year Starkey International places over 100 personal service/household staff professionally in private homes.’… Please identify the specific source(s) from which this empirical data (demonstrating annually at least 100 individuals consistently placed) is taken each year.”

Hopefully Mary Starkey, like any good household manager, will be able to fulfill each and every request. – Joel Warner

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner