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Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Minster to pay settlement

Defunct community school

By Margie Wuebker
MINSTER - After more than two years, the Minster Local Schools board of education Monday night approved a full and final settlement agreement with the U.S. Attorney General's Office regarding the defunct Minster Community School.
Without admitting liability, the board agreed to repay nearly $309,000 in funds it received from several federal education grants for the community school created in 2003. A press release distributed at the conclusion of the meeting indicated the action was being taken to avoid the delay, uncertainty, inconvenience and expense of extended civil litigation.
The announcement came following a 45-minute executive session called to consider the investigation of charges/complaints against a public employee or official.
The grants, received in 2003 and 2004, were to support the community school which closed during the first part of the 2005-2006 school year.
The Ohio Department of Education approved the Minster board of education's applications for the grants and all expenditures from it, officials said, adding all funds were spent on students or for capital projects and items that benefited students. However, the U.S. Attorney General's Office questioned whether the funds could be used for such purposes.
The prepared press release stated "Board of Education Treasurer Laura Klosterman acted strictly as the fiscal agent of the Community School and paid all bills from the grant funds as approved as allowable expenditures by the Ohio Department of Education."
In 2003, the board approved setting up a community school as a way to get more funding. Hal Belcher, current principal at Holy Angels School in Sidney, was Minster's superintendent at the time.
Then 112 students in grades 1-5 registered the first year, and the number increased to 132 the second year with the addition of sixth-graders.
Superintendent Gayl Ray cited closure of the community school as a prime concern when she replaced Belcher in August 2005. No more federal grant money was used and $44,386 was returned.
Although a separate board of education had been formed to oversee its operation, the community school didn't result in visible changes at the school. Students attended the same classes and were offered the same curriculum as other classes, Ray explained.
Federal auditors visited the district in February 2008 and told school officials either the money would need to be paid back or the government would drop the matter depending on a determination regarding the expenditures.
Ray declined to comment Monday, referring all inquiries to board president Kurt Forsthoefel.
"I think we are looking forward to putting this matter behind us and continuing to focus on future activities of the school district," he said.
Klosterman said this morning the total amount - $308,962.50 - will be paid before the current fiscal year ends June 30, adding officials are awaiting the necessary instructions.
"We have the cash to do it now," she said. "It has been in the financial forecast for sometime."
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