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Alpine College closure leaves students, staff seeking answers

Tue., May 24, 2011

Alpine College students, from left, Carla Darrar, Christi Snyder and William Zucconi talk to the media outside Alpine College in Spokane Valley on Monday. (Jesse Tinsley)
Alpine College students, from left, Carla Darrar, Christi Snyder and William Zucconi talk to the media outside Alpine College in Spokane Valley on Monday. (Jesse Tinsley)

Records show debt, unpaid taxes

The note on Alpine College’s doors said “permanently closed.” Still-full staff mailboxes and dishes in the employee kitchen sink were signs of the abrupt departure.

Students who arrived Monday for classes or to look for answers were angry.

“I’m lost,” said Christi Snyder, who was taking phlebotomy courses. “Do we have to start (our education) over? It just doesn’t make sense.”

The closure shocked students and staff because it comes just a week after students had started new classes and paid tuition. Spokane Valley’s Alpine College, a for-profit career school licensed in 2002, issued a statement Monday citing money problems as well as concerns for the health of one of the college’s owners as the reasons for shutting down.

Other signals were emerging, too.

County court records show the school allegedly was behind on its taxes and other debts. An executive director, Genevieve Lois Taylor, was fired for allegedly misusing college funds to make about $45,000 in personal purchases and is scheduled to stand trial next month in Spokane County Superior Court for first-degree theft. And in 2007, the school’s owner, Kevin J. Williams, was barred by a national board from practicing as a certified public accountant for two years.

“You just don’t think your college is going to close,” said Carla Darrar, a surgical technician student who was weeks from graduation. Alpine offered certification in health care professions. Some yearlong programs cost as much as $15,000.

Williams and Christina Stolz, vice president, did not return messages seeking comment.

Until Monday, the college was licensed by the Washington Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board, which oversees about 250 private career schools statewide. Licensing requires several documents including a business plan, a detailed description of the program, credit report and staff credentials, said Marina Parr, a spokeswoman for the board. The licenses are subject to renewal annually.

“This (closure) is highly unusual,” Parr said. “There were no indications of problems when they renewed.”

The state agency only learned of the closure Monday. Its staff is in Spokane to help the school’s approximately 160 students apply to recoup some of their tuition money, get copies of student records and find options for completing their programs.

Students with federal aid can apply to waive repayment on some of the tuition because the school closed. The Washington Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board administers a trust fund that offers students reimbursement for training not received, Parr said. Students have to apply for the reimbursement.

The state board is also working with other career colleges for possibilities for some students to complete their courses elsewhere.

Parr said the board was unaware that the former executive director had been accused of embezzling money and fired in December 2009. They also did not know about Williams’ CPA suspension.

“What is happening is a terrible disservice to these students,” said Mary Bishop, who was an instructor at the college. “It’s devastating to those of us who worked there, too.”

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