03/21/07 — County rejects teacher scholarships

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County rejects teacher scholarships

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on March 21, 2007 1:56 PM

The Wayne County Board of Commissioners decided Tuesday not to accept new applications for the Wayne County Teacher Scholarship Program for the second year.

And the board hinted that it might never implement the program again.

Last March, the commissioners voted to suspend the seven-year-old Wayne County Teacher Scholarship program, which was modeled after the state's Teaching Fellows Scholarship. The program was the first of its kind in the state but was suspended due to funding concerns.

The program offered eight annual scholarships, estimated to cost the county up to $130,000 annually, County Manager Lee Smith said.

The purpose of the program was to forgive each recipient's loans if those students committed to teach in Wayne County for four years after their college graduation.

The Wayne County Scholarship Board of Trustees agreed during its Feb. 8 meeting that the scholarship program does not need to end. Trustees suggested limiting the amount of annual scholarships from eight to five.

But the commissioners said the program was suspended because it was not being handled efficiently. Smith said recipients had been given too much leniency after they initially received the scholarship.

For example, he said some students' grade point averages would drop below an acceptable level, yet those students would still be able to receive money if they eventually raised their grades. Smith said there were also instances when students would not enroll for a semester, but be able to receive their scholarship money when they enrolled the following school year.

Those students made the entire program "impossible to track" and it became "costly to operate." Smith suggested that if the school board or the scholarship's board wants to continue the program, those organizations should find a way to fund it or create a foundation to support the scholarships.

Commission Chairman John Bell said the commissioners had requested that the scholarship board make recommendations on how to improve the program. Although the board suggested limiting the amount of scholarships, Bell said the board did not address problems concerning possible recipient defaults for poor grades or not being enrolled for the entire four years.

Smith said the county would need to see some kind of return on the board's investment, referring to teachers who have successfully completed the program and now teach in Wayne County, before making any future decisions.

Commissioner Andy Anderson agreed, saying the commissioners and the county needed something that "shows accountability for the people's tax dollars."

Commissioner Atlas Price said he thinks the entire program should be disbanded, but is willing to see what kind of information the board receives in the next year.

In other business, the commissioners adopted a resolution requesting the property that once served as Wayne Community College from the state government, its current owner.

Smith said the county needs more available property for possible capital improvement construction in coming years and does not currently own enough property for any of its proposed projects, such as new facilities for Social Services, Health, Services on Aging and a new jail.

The board also supported a resolution asking the state to provide $8 million toward an $11.5 million, 60,000-square-foot Wayne Regional Agricultural Center. The center would accommodate the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Farm Service Agency, Soil and Water conservation, Cherry Farm administration, the regional United States Department of Agriculture offices and several other entities.

Smith said state Sen. John Kerr and Rep. Louis Pate have already discussed the proposed facility and will support legislation asking for the appropriation.

He added that county officials hope to only spend about $1.5 million for the facility after seeking additional funds from other sources.

The commissioners also appointed Shawn Mitchell as the new Arrington Volunteer Fire Department commissioner.