New Castle News

November 13, 2012

New Castle Schools: Didn’t know about summer school, Gabriel says

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — New Castle’s school superintendent says he had no idea the district was running summer school classes for a board member’s son.

“I found out when I got notice that the Ethics Commission was investigating,” George Gabriel said last night.

Gabriel was referring to a state Ethics Commission report made public online Friday. The report details its investigation into the district’s having offered college-level courses to Matt Kirkwood. He is a college student whose father, Mark Kirkwood, sits on the school board.

The younger Kirkwood was the only student in the class, according to the report, and district teachers were paid as instructors.

The district’s program — called College in High School — through Seton Hill University, had been approved by the school board in 2010 for juniors and seniors in high school.

Kirkwood’s father sought to enroll his son in a summer program to obtain college credits so he could transfer from a community college in Alabama to a university in Ohio in order to receive a baseball scholarship.

The father had approached Terry Meehan, assistant to the superintendent, about whether he knew of any credit courses his son could take, according to the report.

 Meehan, assistant to the superintendent, in turn, arranged for the summer school program for the younger Kirkwood in 2010 through the College in High School program.

Meehan told the New Castle News on Friday that his plan was to use it as a trial program for other college students in the future.

The agreement with Seton Hill for the program had been approved by the school board for high school juniors and seniors with a grant.

The board did not vote to approve the special summer classes for Kirkwood, nor had it voted to include college students in the Seton Hill program.

The Ethics Commission found that “a transgression” of the state Public Officials and Employee Ethics Act occurred when the district’s program 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 concluded that Kirkwood, a school director since 2003, used the district to obtain the credits for his son at reduced cost in order to get his athletic scholarship.

Gabriel said last night that he first learned about the matter when he was notified that he was to be questioned by the Ethics Commission about a year ago.

Since the investigation was initiated, Kirkwood paid Seton Hill $44,495 for the full tuition of the two courses and the district $674 for the cost of two teachers who taught his son.

The Ethics Commission also has ordered him to pay $1,000 for its investigation costs.

Now that the report has been released, Gabriel said he does not know whether there will be sanctions against any district personnel for conducting the program without his or board knowledge but “that would be a personnel matter.”

He said that as of last night he had not read the detailed, 26-page report.

The board members made no mention nor had public discussion of the findings at last night’s meeting.