The Maricopa County Community College District’s work force training center, which draws hundreds of students from all over the Valley, is in “chaos” and needs to be overhauled, according to an outside auditor.

Maricopa Community Colleges Investigation

Throughout the Maricopa Skill Center, the auditor found evidence of cronyism, nepotism, plummeting enrollment and dissension between teachers and administrators.

“The organization is in chaos and there must be an intervention to get this train back on the track and it needs to be sooner than later,” Sharon M. McGavick, the outside auditor and president of Lake Washington Technical College, Seattle, wrote in her 28-page-report. “People are lining up attorneys and filing grievances and talking about class-action suits.”

MCCCD Chancellor Rufus Glasper hired McGavick to investigate the skill center in May after he received a petition that alleged corruption and claimed instructors at the south Phoenix campus have no confidence in their leaders.

The chancellor this week named William Waechter, a former top MCCCD official, to lead a review of the findings and to continue investigating allegations of misconduct.

This audit is among a slew of inquiries Glasper ordered during the past year following news reports about theft, academic fraud and questionable international travel within the nation’s largest community college system.

Unlike the Maricopa district’s 10 community colleges, the skill center does not offer a typical college curriculum. It provides a number of vocational programs, such as automotive repair and cosmetology.

The center traditionally enrolls low-income Valley students looking for a trade instead of an academic degree. But several parts of it are dysfunctional, McGavick’s report said.

The findings include:

• Since 2004, center officials have fired numerous employees, most of them minorities, but it is unclear how many. District records show 11 employees were terminated for budget reasons; the center contends that only nine were fired. However, employees provided documents indicating the center fired 19 employees — 16 of them minorities.

• There is evidence of a racial bias in officials’ hiring decisions. During the past two years almost every person hired has been white. The center hired one black and a “Latino who they attempted to fire,” McGavick wrote.

• Nearly all new hires the past two years have ties to Mike Metzgar, the skill center’s director of instruction. Metzgar heads most hiring committees or has a friend or close colleague doing so and “in some cases the second choice was selected” when the applicant had ties to Metzger, McGavick found.

• The center’s enrollment has dropped so low that many programs have three or fewer students; one program hasn’t had a single student for months. “When I asked that instructor if he was concerned he said, ‘No, I am on a grant and the administration has told me not to worry.’”

John Underwood, the skill center’s executive director, could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday.

Metzgar, reached on his home phone late Wednesday afternoon, asked if he could call back later in the day, but never did. Metzgar was not home when a reporter called again in the evening.

McGavick spent three weeks interviewing dozens of employees at the center. In her report, she said administrators characterized the dissension as limited to a handful of teachers in the trade programs.

Underwood has sought to alter the center’s mission since he became director in 2004 to focus more on high-technology training. As part of the change, officials discussed raising its enrollment standards.

Most of those enrolling in the vocational programs are lower income and minority students, McGavick found.

The teachers vehemently oppose the change. The rift between administrators and teachers has grown so wide that both groups argue the center has to fire their opponents to ease tensions at the center, McGavick wrote.

Donald Campbell, the MCCCD governing board member who represents the skill center, said he was not aware of its problems. The elected officials only received copies of the audit report Wednesday. Campbell and Linda Rosenthal, the board’s president, said they hadn’t read it yet and declined to comment.

Waechter will decide how to continue the district’s investigation and will also give Glasper a set of recommendations, said Chris Chesrown, a spokeswoman for the district.

McGavick’s investigation was only supposed to look at personnel issues, but she said information from employees forced her to broaden its scope.

“Many e-mails and memos were given to me in Manila envelopes slipped under the door,” she wrote, “in order to keep their anonymity.”

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