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November 10, 2012

Ethics findings issued against New Castle school director

NEW CASTLE — The state Ethics Commission has issued findings against a New Castle Area School Board member.

The recent findings, posted on the commission’s website, indicate that Mark Kirkwood, an elected school director since 2003, used the district to obtain college credits for his son, Matt, at reduced costs, enabling his son to obtain an athletic scholarship.

The findings also show that Kirkwood’s son, a college student, was the only student attending summer school in the district in 2010 through its Seton Hill University College in High School program.

The program, which is designated for high school juniors and seniors, enabled the young Kirkwood to complete college credits he needed to transfer from Shelton State Community College in Alabama to Cleveland University in Ohio to enter its baseball program.

As a result, he transferred and received a scholarship from that college.

The credit program approved by the New Castle district stipulated the credits are for juniors and seniors in high school in order to provide them with college-level credits at a reduced cost through completion of specifically approved high school classes. Seton Hill partners with school districts statewide to provide the credit program.

TRANSGRESSION

The Ethics Commission in its conclusions determined that “a transgression” of the state Public Officials and Employee Ethics Act occurred with the district’s program and was used to assist Kirkwood’s son in getting college credits to obtain an athletic scholarship that would minimize the financial burden of his college education.

The commission acknowledged that since the investigation began, Kirkwood already has reimbursed Seton Hill $4,495 in full for the cost of the tuition of the two courses. He also paid the school district in $674 in full for the cost of paying the two district teachers who taught the courses, after receiving two invoices from district business manager Joe Ambrosini.

Kirkwood also is ordered to pay $1,000 to the state Ethics Commission within six months for the cost of the investigation.

According to the commission findings, New Castle’s assistant to the superintendent, Terry Meehan, initiated the district’s affiliation with Seton Hill’s College in High School program in January 2010.

In the following month, the board approved the agreement between the district and Seton Hill to provide the courses for the 2010-11 year. Kirkwood did not attend that meeting.

The agreement states that participating students must be high school juniors or seniors.

According to Commission findings, Matt Kirkwood graduated from high school on June 1, 2008, and enrolled at Shelton Community College that fall. In the spring of 2010,  he decided to transfer to Cleveland State.

The findings allege that Cleveland was interested in recruiting him for baseball, and that the university offered him a scholarship worth 85 percent off the cost of tuition for two years to play the following fall.

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