Scholarship poses potential conflict of interest | CraigDailyPress.com

Scholarship poses potential conflict of interest

— The Ed Townsend Memorial Scholarship — named after Moffat County High School’s principal from 1959 to 1974 — is designed to support students pursuing an education degree.

However, the scholarship criteria, which has been in place for more years than anyone can remember, has raised some eyebrows amongst members of the organizations who fund the scholarship.

The scholarship application states that it gives added consideration to students whose parents are members of the school board — a publicly elected body funded by public money — or members of Moffat County Education Association.

"That's never ever in my whole tenure been discussed," said MCSD Board of Education President JB Chapman. "This was just a good gesture, a $500 kind-of concept (for) furthering our students going into education."

The scholarship is administered by MCEA, which functionally serves as a teacher's union for MCSD teachers, and also counts paraeducators and a few administrators among its membership.

The scholarship is typically funded in equal parts by the association and the school board, totaling $1,000, according to MCEA member and scholarship committee leader Krista Schenck.

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"We have a rubric that (evaluates) grades, community involvement, volunteer hours, and extracurricular involvement in the high school," Schenck said. "We want to support someone who's really (focused on) education."

Nine students applied for the scholarship this year, Schenck said, and were graded on the above criteria on a one to four scale by a committee of MCEA members. Students who have educator parents receive bonus points on their application, regardless of whether the parent is a member of MCEA. The bonus points are also given to children of school board members, as well as counselors, paraeducators, janitors and others in the education field.

"I have always known it to be specifically for students that intend on going into a career as a teacher or any sort of educator," MCEA Co-President Sandy Sorensen said. "It sounds like a conflict of interest. I didn't know anything about the kids of school board members thing, I only knew it gave special weight to kids going into education."

School board funding is provided by the school district to cover costs such as audit services, legal services and state and regional meetings.

Chapman said the school board would look into the matter and Sorensen said she will bring it up to fellow MCEA officers at their next meeting.

The winner of this year's scholarship will be announced at MCEA's annual Spring Fling event May 21.

"It's definitely something we need to change if it hasn't been done right in years past," Chapman said. "My personal opinion is if we're going to encourage our students to follow in the footsteps of Mr. Townsend and pursue that and the board wants to support that, then all students should be treated equally."

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1794 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @CDP_Education.

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