Bishop State Community College employees allegedly arranged for their relatives, including a 67-year-old disabled grandmother enrolled in sports programs, to receive student financial aid, according to The Birmingham News. The newspaper has published reports on an investigation of the school being conducted by state officials.
Dr. Thomas Corts, interim chancellor of Alabama’s two-year college system, ordered the probe last week. It was prompted by records that showed that Bishop State President, Dr. Yvonne Kennedy, who is also a state representative, sent legislative funds to her private foundation in 2003.
Kennedy, who has headed the Mobile, Ala., college since 1981, sent all of her legislative discretionary money — $94,000 — to the Bishop State Community College Foundation, which she created in 1993, state records show.
She had requested the state funding, saying the foundation needed the money to build a laboratory for culinary arts students at the college. But the foundation’s financial records don’t report the expense, instead listing all expenditures as scholarships to hundreds of two-year college students.
Bishop State faced questions last year from state auditors who discovered records of financial aid recipients who didn’t attend the college.
A team of investigators arrived at the college’s financial aid office on Monday, and Corts has told The Birmingham News that the review should be completed late this week or sometime next week.
“I don’t believe I can speak to specifics right now,” Corts told the paper. “We are looking at several allegations involving several persons, but until our team has completed its investigation, I’m not going to say more.”
Corts was appointed interim chancellor by the state school board after it fired former chancellor Dr. Roy W. Johnson in July. Johnson was released after the board learned that many of his family and friends worked for the system.
The state and federal investigation that bounced Johnson from his position also ensnared state Rep. Bryant Melton, D-Tuscaloosa. The lawmaker, who also worked at Shelton State Community College, admitted to funneling state funds through legislative grants to the Alabama Fire College Foundation, then using the money to pay gambling debts. The Fire College is located at Shelton State.
Kennedy said last week that the Bishop State investigation involves financial aid being given to people who do not attend classes. She said she started an internal investigation in May after an aid recipient admitted receiving the money without attending class.
Among the allegations under investigation, a Bishop State business office employee is accused of arranging more than $6,600 in grants and scholarships this spring for her grandmother and mother, according to the newspaper. The employee is also accused of arranging a $1,080 softball scholarship for her 52-year-old mother.
Kennedy, who is on medical leave to recover from open-heart surgery, says she reported the student aid problem to Johnson before she was hospitalized. She says she was not aware of questions about the legislative grant money she sent to her foundation.
Her 2003 grant request states that the money was “to assist in the development of a laboratory — the Best Grill — for the students enrolled in the culinary arts program at Bishop State Community College.” State records show the check was sent to Kennedy’s foundation in May 2003.
Kennedy says the money may have been used for scholarships for culinary students, even if it wasn’t used for the laboratory project. “I’m sure that doing scholarships would not be out of range,” she says.
— Associated Press and Diverse Staff Reports
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