Role Models grant to end

February 26, 2002|By SCOTT BUTKI

The U.S. Department of Labor says it will not continue funding a military-style academy run by Role Models America Inc. when a $10 million, two-year grant period ends May 31, a Labor Department official said Friday.

Role Models founder and President Robert Alexander said Monday he would try to have the grant renewed.

Alexander also said he hopes to get private funding to continue operating Role Models Academy, a school for high school dropouts at the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base in northeast Washington County.

Alexander said he has requested funding from several foundations and corporations, which he did not name. Those organizations are processing his request, he said.

The original grant funding was available through an appropriation by Congress, David Dye, Labor Department deputy assistant secretary for employment and training said.


There has been no direction from Congress for funding to continue when the grant runs out, Dye said.

There was never an intent by the Labor Department to provide more than a few years of grant funding for the program, Dye said. The grant was intended to help the school get started and then perhaps continue operating through private funds, Dye said.

The Labor Department in December directed the academy not to accept new students because the school would be able to provide only "minimal impact" on students' education in the few months remaining in the grant, Dye said.

Role Models agreed not to enroll any new students, Dye said.

Alexander would not say whether he has accepted new students since December. He said he was "in compliance" with Role Models' contract with the Labor Department, but refused to elaborate.

He said he did not know how many students currently are enrolled in the program.

Asked if students and their families know the grant is running out, he said that information has been printed in the newspaper.

Pressed further, he said, "I don't think I have to answer your questions about my program."

U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., late last year asked the Labor Department to investigate complaints from parents of students who attended the academy.

The investigation led to a report that alleged, among other things, students underwent strip searches, their phone calls were monitored, and documentation proving students were out-of-school youth was not available.

Alexander denied the allegations.

The report noted that of more than 220 students who have been enrolled in the academy, 10 have graduated.

In late September, a Labor Department audit of Role Models America Inc. questioned $262,258 in costs Role Models charged to the federal grant.

The costs questioned by the financial audit included rent, a security deposit, furniture and a water-conditioning system at the Waynesboro, Pa., home of Alexander and his wife, who is the chief executive officer of Role Models America Inc.

Dye said the Labor Department has not decided whether any action, such as attempting to recover the costs of the items mentioned in the audit, would be taken.

Alexander said he and his wife were not paid a salary since the Role Models program began in June 2000, but were to be paid a management fee. The money questioned in the audit would have constituted that fee, he said.

The Labor Department had not determined whether that was the case, Dye said.

Since March 2000, Role Models, a nonprofit educational organization, has been leasing property at the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base from the PenMar Development Corp. for about $1.3 million a year.

Classes at the school began Oct. 23, 2000.

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