New Castle News

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November 16, 2012

New Castle Schools: Kirkwood censured for Ethics violation

NEW CASTLE — The New Castle Area School Board has censured Mark Kirkwood for three weeks because of a state Ethics Commission finding.

As a result, Kirkwood will not be allowed to serve on any board committees until its reorganizational meeting. He has been a board member since his election in 2003.

The approval of the sanction came on a 9-0 vote, with Kirkwood, himself, voting for it.

The board has scheduled its reorganization meeting for 6 p.m. Dec. 5.

Kirkwood was taken to task in a recent state Ethics Commission report that says he used his school board seat to obtain college credits for his son, Matt, at reduced costs, enabling him to obtain an athletic scholarship.

Board member Stacey Fleo brought up the ethics report Wedneday night and recommended the censuring, saying, “It’s with regret at this time ... I think we need to acknowledge the recent finding of the state Ethics Commission.”

She suggested that Kirkwood be censured until the  reorganizational meeting.

“Censuring is the acknowledgment of an incident,” she said.

The board was quiet for about half a minute after she made a motion, then member Barb Razzano gave a second to the motion.

A dictionary definition of censure is to “express severe disapproval of someone or something, typically in a formal statement.”

The Ethics Commission findings show that Kirkwood’s son, Matt, 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 was arranged for his son, a high school graduate, through a program that the board had approved only for high school juniors and seniors.

Terry Meehan, assistant to the superintendent, set the program up through Seton Hill University’s College in High School program, saying he intended it to be a pilot for future graduates needing summer credits.

The program had not been approved by the board for a college student to earn credits at a reduced cost. Nor had the board approved the summer school program.

The Ethics Commission determined 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.

Kirkwood has reimbursed Seton Hill $4,495 in full for the cost of the tuition of the two courses his son took, and he repaid the school district $674 in full for the two district teachers who taught the courses.

The Ethics Commission also ordered him to pay the state agency $1,000 to cover the investigation costs.

District Superintendent George Gabriel said earlier this week that he was unaware of the entire matter until he was questioned about it by the Ethics Commission.

He said that now that the report has been released, 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.

Immediately after the censuring vote, board member Mary Ann Tofel called for an executive session, citing “personnel” as the reason.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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