Vocational school shut, students angry


A downtown Baltimore vocational school has closed, apparently for good, leaving some 160 students waiting for refunds or a chance to finish their education elsewhere.

PTC Career Institute, located at the corner of Baltimore and Calvert streets, closed March 1, according to school attorney Joseph S. Kaufman.

The closing has angered students who are worried they will have nothing to show for their months of instruction.

"It was frustrating," said Linora Barnes of Cherry Hill, who started PTC's nursing assistant's program in November. "We spent all that money on the uniforms and the books to get through the program. Then all of a sudden it just closes down."

Sheila Carter of East Baltimore said she was supposed to graduate from the nursing assistant's program last Friday.

"When I found out they closed the school I started crying," said Ms. Carter, 37. "I'd like to finish the program. I've never had a real job."

PTC's students pay between $3,600 and $4,800 for five to seven months of training as nursing assistants, security guards and office computer operators.

State Higher Education Secretary Shaila R. Aery last week ordered PTC to make refunds to students. If it fails to do so within 30 days, the state can tap into a $100,000 bond that PTC posted.

The Baltimore school is part of Philadelphia Training Center Corp., a Philadelphia-based chain that has had financial problems for several years. A 1992 audit found that the chain of schools had more than twice as many liabilities as assets, and a negative net worth of $5.4 million. PTC's Philadelphia owners, Richard and Rimona Friedberg, were convicted of tax evasion in 1992 and 1993.

The Baltimore school stopped paying its 30 employees in early December. Several kept working with out pay until the school closed two weeks ago, according to students.

Mr. Kaufman said PTC's landlord has begun eviction proceedings.

PTC officials in Philadelphia were unavailable for comment.

At the insistence of Maryland officials, the school late last year posted a bond of $100,000 to cover refunds if it were to close. But state officials estimate that the school may owe students as much as $250,000.

The state has ordered the school to post an additional bond of some $160,000, but the school is resisting. In a hearing yesterday before the Maryland Higher Education Commission, Mr. Kaufman argued that the state has made unreasonable demands on the financially strapped school.

William F. Howard, an assistant attorney general, told the commission that the bond is even more important now that the school has closed.

The state oversees a guaranty fund to cover tuition refunds for vocational schools that become insolvent. All trade schools in the state contribute to the fund, which has a balance of some $500,000, officials said.

Instead of making tuition refunds, the state has the option of placing students in other trade schools to finish their training. Their tuition would be drawn from the guaranty fund, according to Dr. Aery.

Tina Lewis, a 20-year-old from Baltimore, said she was only a month away from finishing the nursing assistant's program when PTC closed. "By the time I'm 25, I plan to have a nice little career," Ms. Lewis said yesterday. She said the school's abrupt closing "is wasting time; it's time I don't have."

Ms. Lewis said she has a federally guaranteed loan of about $2,000 to repay.

"I'm held accountable for that loan, whether I complete the program or not," Ms. Lewis said. "That's a lot when you don't have it."

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