Dade Medical’s fall bad for some pols


Perhaps, a solemn moment of silence is in order for many of South Florida’s elected leaders.

One of their most reliable donors of campaign cash has gone away to that big federal investigation in the sky.

Let us pray (nobody pays attention.)

Dade Medical College, a for-profit school that performed splendidly as a recycler of taxpayer money, shut down abruptly last week due to financial problems, leaving thousands of students behind. The school had six campuses across the state, including one in West Palm Beach.

But I’ll leave it to others to commiserate with the students, who for years have been saddled with substantial school loans from their high-priced, and sometimes inferior, education at Dade Medical College. I am not here to dwell on the misfortune of those who enrolled in a $40,050 physical therapy assistant associate’s degree program that lacked accreditation, making it essentially useless.

And sure, I could point out the misfortune of the 87 percent of the college’s nursing program graduates at its Hollywood campus who didn’t learn enough to pass the state licensing exam for nursing last year. But I’d rather focus on the real losers here.

The bipartisan partial list includes: Gov. Rick Scott, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, former Florida Senate President Don Gaetz, and state Rep. Erik Fresen, the chairman of the Florida House Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

And a special note of condolence goes out to state Sen. Rene Garcia, of Hialeah, who was making nearly $135,000 a year working for Dade Medical College as its government relations expert.

These guardians of the public trust all managed to take money from a school that was headed by somebody who should have made them run the other way. Ernesto Perez arrived at being a higher-education entrepreneur in Florida the old fashioned way: by dropping out of high school in the 10th grade and joining a rock band.

Oh, and then getting convicted of a misdemeanor sex crime with a minor.

With these accomplishments under his belt, Perez was ready to run a for-profit higher-education enterprise that collected $100 million in taxpayer-funded grants and loans during the past three years alone.

With 90 percent of the school’s money coming from the public coffers, Perez paid himself a tidy sum of $431,999 to run Dade Medical College, a college of about 2,000 students, according to the Miami Herald.

That’s more than the $400,000 base salary paid to the president of Florida Atlantic University, a university with 25,000 students. And FAU’s president doesn’t get to put his family on the payroll, either.

Perez paid his father $197,760 and his mother another $28,634 a year to be consultants to Dade Medical College, and his wife was on the payroll for another $28,634 for a job title listed in company records as “Corporate Director of Ball Busting,” the Herald reported.

Yes, we love our low-accountability, high-priced school choice here in Florida.

In a series called “Higher-Ed Hustle”, the Miami Herald detailed the widespread abuse of for-profit colleges in Florida, which have mushroomed throughout the state due to laws that reward them at the expense of traditional community colleges, which tend to perform better at a fraction of the cost.

Five years ago, the Obama administration floated the idea of denying school loans to these private for-profit schools if a high percentage of their students were left with loans that dwarfed the money they made after graduation.

But this “gainful employment” requirement was resisted by many of the Florida lawmakers who were getting campaign contributions from these same schools. Dade Medical College alone has contributed more than $170,000 to state and federal candidates, the Herald reported.

But all bad things must come to an end. And so it has.

A federal lawsuit over student loans has saddled the school with a $4.6 million judgment, and a surprise audit from the U.S. Department of Education found enough fiscal problems to cut the school’s lifeblood of grants and loans.

So without notice, the college shut its doors on Friday. What a shame. I’m sure the closing has left many South Florida elected officials with a hole in the wallets, er, I mean, their hearts.

And so let’s send them a big group hug, and console them as best we can by saying, “Not sorry for your loss.”

Frank Cerabino writes for The Palm Beach Post.

©2015 Cox Newspapers