Ripples From Shelter Operator Settlement To Impact Workers, School District

Published: Friday, October 26, 2018 - 8:39am
Updated: Friday, October 26, 2018 - 8:41am
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Jackie Hai/KJZZ

Hundreds of people in Arizona could lose their jobs due to a ripple effect from the legal settlement between the operator of shelters for undocumented immigrant children and a state agency.

As part of a deal with the Arizona Department of Health Services, Southwest Key Programs agreed to surrender licenses for two of its shelters.

Southwest Key will obey everything in the settlement, said spokesperson Jeff Eller.

“That will mean that we will have to reduce staff and there will be layoffs,” he said. 

Eller did not know how many of Southwest Key’s roughly 2,000 employees in Arizona will lose their jobs.

“It could be as many as 500,” he said.

The legal process that led to the settlement started because Southwest Key missed a deadline tied to increased state oversight. The error happened a month after the shelter operator agreed to heightened scrutiny.

“We’ve openly acknowledged that there are things we could have done better. We’re in the process of making those improvements,” Eller said.

Educators are also bracing for the impact of the shelter closures.

Steve Watson, superintendent of the Maricopa County Regional School District, emailed staff that the closures will cause the district to lose 240 students.

Kids were moved from one of the Southwest Key shelters weeks ago due to allegations of physical abuse by staff. It has not been in use since.

Watson’s email said the second shelter is expected close in the next 90 days. Watson also wrote that the loss will have a “catastrophic impact on the district budget,” and his team is working to minimize "the loss of programs and positions."

A district spokesperson confirmed the email was from Watson. But they declined to do an interview until more information is available.

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