Hickey School's operator criticized


ANNAPOLIS -- The private firm that runs Maryland's school for juvenile delinquents hasn't started some of the programs it promised, and the state should consider asking for a partial refund on its $17 million contract, a legislative analyst told lawmakers yesterday.

The Charles H. Hickey Jr. School still has no vocational programs, and its educational record-keeping is inadequate, analyst Robert. C. Rogers told a House Appropriations subcommittee at the Department of Juvenile Services' annual budget review.

Juvenile Services Secretary Mary Ann Saar agreed that Rebound Inc., a Colorado-based company, is in only partial compliance under the 6-month-old contract, but said that's what she would have expected at this point.

Ms. Saar said Rebound was about "60 percent in compliance" as of last month, and is expected to be in substantial compliance when her staff visits the northeast Baltimore County facility in May.

"I'm astonished to think it's going to be May before we come into compliance," said Del. John Gary, D-Anne Arundel. "We were under the impression that when this was privatized, it was going to be a turn-key operation . . . [Rebound] was going to hit the ground running."

The Hickey contract was awarded in July and took effect Sept. 1, making Maryland the third state nationwide, after Florida and Tennessee, to choose a private contractor for its so-called training school.

Ultimately, the switch will save the state money, as Rebound's contract calls for an average cost of $49,079 per bed in the 360-bed facility, down from more than $53,000 when the state ran it.

But Rebound also was expected to substantially improve the program at Hickey, which has struggled with overcrowding, frequent escapes and attacks on employees.

While Ms. Saar was not running the department when the contract was awarded, Deputy Secretary Alfred I. Murphy told Mr. Gary the department neither expected nor promised a fast turn-around for the troubled school, which houses more than 300 of Maryland's toughest youthful offenders.

Meanwhile, Rebound is under its budget projections by about $900,000 because not all programs have been implemented. That money is to be recycled into Juvenile Services' general fund to off-set a $2.9 million deficit created by the Hickey privatization.

"There are incremental improvements every day," said Director of Operations Tim Neidermeyer. "Am I satisfied? No way."

Susan P. Leviton, president of Advocates for Children and Youth Inc., said Hickey has not changed much since the takeover, although she said Rebound's staff members are generally nicer to their charges than were the state employees they replaced.

And Ms. Saar pointed out that the Glen Mills School in Pennsylvania, a private juvenile program with numerous fans in Maryland's legislature, took five years before it was recognized as successful.

According to the Department of Fiscal Services analysis:

* A vocational program that would have provided Hickey's youths with job skills has not been set up. "They do have children cleaning dishes and children who are cutting the lawn, but that's not vocational training," Mr. Rogers said.

Mr. Neidermeyer said the program has been on hold because the average length of stay at Hickey is four months, and most vocational programs require at least six months.

* Rebound uses a 20-minute evaluation test for students and has dropped the state's screening for language skills. On a Feb. 7 visit, according to Mr. Rogers' report, he found that no entries had been made in student records between Sept. 1 and Oct. 15.

Mr. Neidermeyer said the records are now up to date, while a Juvenile Services' response to the Fiscal Services report noted that immediate review of students' records is not required under the contract.

* Rebound had not completed staff training for all its employees, Mr. Rogers said, but Ms. Saar said that applied only to a few recent hires.

Sanctions against Rebound will be considered if the non-profit company is not in compliance within six months of the May inspection, Ms. Saar said.

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