03/28/07 — School board pushes to keep scholarship program

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School board pushes to keep scholarship program

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 28, 2007 1:46 PM

The school board is not responsible for students' failure to complete terms of a teacher scholarship program and would like to see the program continue, members said Monday night.

The board's April meeting was held early due to the upcoming Easter holidays. Their remarks centered around the commission's decision last week not to accept new applications for the Wayne County Teacher Scholarship Program.

The program, begun in 2000, offered eight annual scholarships to students interested in pursuing a teaching degree, and forgave the loans if students committed to teach in Wayne County schools for four years.

Last March, the commission voted to suspend the program due to funding reasons. The program was estimated to cost the county up to $130,000 annually, County Manager Lee Smith said.

When the board of trustees for the program met in February, they determined the program should continue, suggesting the number of scholarships be reduced from eight to five.

But at its March 20 meeting, the commission cited inefficiencies and mismanagement as reasons to discontinue the program. Among the examples mentioned were participants whose grades had dropped but were still able to receive money if the grades improved, or students' failure to enroll for a semester and being able to continue in the program when they enrolled the following school year.

The school board should not be blamed for such issues, said Shirley Sims, Board of Education chairwoman.

"It's my clear remembrance that when that committee was formed, we selected three members and the county commissioners selected three. I don't recall at any time any sort of disagreement," she said, referring to the establishment of the board of trustees for the program.

Any insinuations that the Board of Education was responsible for the program's accomplishments were unfounded, she said.

"The Wayne County Board of Education at no time had anything to do with the rules and regulations that took place," she said. "The school board should not be charged with how to get people to go to college."

Vice chairwoman Thelma Smith said the goal for the program had been to provide scholarship money for young people to go to college, enter the teaching profession and return to their home county to teach.

"I think it's served that purpose well," she said.

But there will be occurrences of students dropping out, she said. "It happens everywhere across the nation. I don't think we need to be held responsible for what a person does afterwards."

Ms. Sims said there had been successes in the program.

"We did have some people that did graduate and are working in our school system," she said. Officials in the school system said there are currently 12 recipients teaching in the district.

Both women said they would like to see the scholarship program re-instated, as the board of trustees had recommended.

Ms. Sims said she would also like to see the board of trustees reconvene and make a financial or statistical report, "something that will bring closure, truth to the matter."

Dr. Steven Taylor, superintendent of schools, agreed that the program was helpful toward recruiting and retaining teachers and that he would also like to see it continue.

"We're hoping that in the future county commissioners will reconsider that," he said.

He said he realized such programs take funding and expressed appreciation for the money the commission has provided previously and will hopefully continue to provide in the future.

Likewise, he said he was grateful for the role the board of trustees had played in running the scholarship program.

"It's hard to write the rules," he said, especially when there may be "extenuating circumstances. (Students) had their own set of individual circumstances. But (the trustees) are an outstanding group of people, highly respected in this county."

Ms. Sims said she would welcome the chance to meet with the trustees.

She said she would "thank them for their hard work and all that they did to make a difference, working with young people and getting them to go to college."