May 7, 2010; Source: WPMT | Three Harrisburg, Pennsylvania TV outlets—Fox affiliate WPMT, ABC’s WHTM, and NBC’s WGAL—all had lots of news coverage over the past weekend about alleged mismanagement and misspending of federal funds at a Youthbuild site in Harrisburg.
Youthbuild is the phenomenally successful program whose local affiliates train high-risk young people in construction skills—and remedial education—through work on housing rehabilitation projects. Generally known to be as clean as a whistle, Youthbuild is rarely associated with charges that the feds want to be reimbursed for at least $200,000 from a $1 million grant. The real story is that the organization under scrutiny is not an affiliate of the national Youthbuild intermediary, but the Harrisburg School District which applied for and received a $1 million Youthbuild program grant from the U.S. Department of Labor three years ago.
The department’s program provides support to Youthbuild affiliates and to non-Youthbuild organizations that propose projects meant to comply with the Youthbuild program model. The School District seems to have already admitted its responsibility, suspending two district administrators who were in charge of the program, and, in the words of the District’s board president, he is “embarrassed once again, to have to report to this community that there have been activities associated with this program that are less than honorable.”
If you had simply listened with half an ear to the TV news reports from Pennsylvania’s capital city, one would have thought that this was a problem of Youthbuild. In reality, as the board chair took to the airwaves to blame the former school system superintendent who was fired in January, this is really one of those pernicious, internecine conflicts between mayors, school boards, and school system superintendents, unfortunately in this case with the name “Youthbuild” connected to the controversy.—Rick Cohen