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Future of beauty school cloudy

| Saturday, May 12, 2012, 2:08 p.m.

Around a dozen students and instructors gathered outside the Pittsburgh Beauty Academy of Greensburg Tuesday morning trying to decide what to do with their lives.

The status of the school, as well as the careers of the teachers and pending graduates, remained muddy after students were told a meeting scheduled yesterday with management was canceled.

"We got calls last night that it was canceled. But we still came here today because we can't believe anything," said student Kristin Gasparovic, of Irwin, who was preparing to graduate in mid-June.

Students and instructors have been on an emotional roller coaster ride since teachers at the Greensburg school walked off the job April 23 because they were not paid. Since then, faculty and students have been fed promises by PBA Director and CEO Arthur B. DeConciliis, only to be disappointed.

"We're all in limbo. I've got a job waiting for me," said Larry Chambers, of Connellsville, who is among the would-be graduates.

Gloria Poole, of Jeannette, was livid because she said PBA has put the lives of students and teachers on hold.

"We have no clues about where to go or what to do," Poole said. "(DeConciliis) has been lying about everything. We are just being led.

"They've held up all of our lives for weeks. That's unacceptable," she said, noting she also has a potential employer waiting for her to complete her certification.

Employees at the Greensburg, Charleroi and New Kensington schools, as well as most of those at the main office in Pittsburgh, have not seen a paycheck since April 8.

DeConciliis repeatedly has promised to pay instructors and also asked them to bear with him while he establishes financial stability.

But as the weeks slip by without paychecks, employees are faced with financial problems of their own.

A majority of the instructors at the Pittsburgh school walked off the job two weeks ago, while the Charleroi and New Kensington locations closed Monday.

Directors and instructors at the schools are uncertain if they have jobs or have been fired because no official notice has been made to them.

DeConciliis said Monday he asked employees not to cash the checks until today, even though they were dated for both May 2 and May 5.

He could not be reached for comment at his Pittsburgh office yesterday.

Yesterday morning, the Greensburg director encouraged students to continue to follow their dreams.

"Don't let this destroy your dreams. You are all too good," she told the students gathered at the school. She has asked not to be identified.

The director told some students they could transfer to Empire Beauty School in Monroeville, Allegheny County, to complete their required hours. Others who had paid in full and are still months away from graduation were unsure if they could recoup their investments.

Despite the uncertainty, students and the staff continue to support each other.

"We don't blame our teachers. They have bent over backwards," said Poole.

"The industry is good. They can be very successful. Our students are intelligent and mature, and they're paying for this education. It's a quality curriculum. This is all just heartbreaking," said the Greensburg director.

Student Becky Forsha, of Latrobe, praised her teachers, while wondering about her career.

"We did have excellent teachers," she said.

Pittsburgh student Amy Larch has been traveling from her home in Weirton, W.Va., to the Pittsburgh school for two weeks, only to be told to go back home each time. "I've had two classes in the past 2 1/2 weeks," she said.

Larch said she is transferring to a beauty school in Erie and likely will lose the time and money she invested in PBA, which amounts to around $1,000 to date.

Instructor Chris Fenner, who started teaching at the Greensburg school just three months ago, has decided to change careers to avoid what he says is the instability.

"I'm going to Westmoreland County Community College to study surgical technology. I'm getting out of the field. I'll probably cut hair on the side," he said.

Brian McDonald, a spokesman for the Department of State, Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs, which regulates the curriculum and equipment at state-licensed schools, said PBA's apparent financial woes wouldn't affect its licensing.

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