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FSCJ picks Jax attorney to investigate Pell Grant blunder
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FSCJ picks Jax attorney to investigate Pell Grant blunder

FSCJ picks Jax attorney to investigate Pell Grant blunder
Photo Credit: Gene Wexler
FSCJ board chair Jim McCollum speaks about Pell Grants at a Tuesday news conference at the schools Advanced Technology Center.

FSCJ picks Jax attorney to investigate Pell Grant blunder

The Florida State College at Jacksonville says they will conduct their own independent investigation as to what went wrong in their Pell Grant process which left the school around $2.8 million in debt to the U.S. Department of Education.

Jacksonville real estate attorney Bill Scheu will investigate and report on what exactly went wrong in the process that gave out Pell Grants for the 2010-11 year.

“Upon completion of his review, Mr. Scheu will present his findings to the public in the form of an independent, objective report,” said Jim McCollum, chairman of the FSCJ board.

He said the report is expected by the board’s meeting in early August.

“It will then be the College’s responsibility to inform the public regarding how the issues will be resolved and how the problems will be prevented in the future.”

McCollum referred to Mr. Scheu as one of “our most trusted and respected citizens.”

Bill Scheu was appointed by then-Governor Jeb Bush as Duval elections supervisor in 2004.  In the 1990s, he helped Planned Parenthood and the Christian Coalition reach an agreement on sex education in schools.  He also helped the NAACP and the School Board reach an agreement on desegregation.

The issue at hand is that FSCJ gave out about $2.8 million in Pell Grants in 2010-11 to students who did not submit the proper documentation.  At first the school rejected the applications, but the students later got the money by filing appeals.

The school says the number of students who may owe their grant money back is 700, down from more than 970 in April.  McCollum said they reviewed all of the approximately 6,000 appeals processed in that school year.

The Times Union reported today that Steve Bowers, vice president of administrative services, said that as of today, 223 students have contacted the school about providing better documentation.

The school also says it will be conducting an audit of the 2011-12 school year, meaning more letters may go out informing students they need further documentation to keep their loan money.  Otherwise, they'll have to pay it back.

McCollum says the errors in the process resulted from three sources:

                -“An extraordinary staff workload due to the unprecedented number of financial aid applications, services and appeals.
                -“The compassionate staff and their well-meaning but misguided efforts to help students stay in school and graduate.
                -“Poor judgment in the granting of appeals before all requirements were met.”

Steve R. Wallace, FSCJ’s President, said the staff was trying to do the right thing to help students. Still, the school says employees have been disciplined and more will be once the investigation results are in.

“Staff will be fully accountable for all errors found.”

The school is not in the repayment phase yet and they haven’t set a time limit on repaying the Department of Education.

McCollum says they are going “all out to work with students” to resolve the issue.

“We expect to have a final accounting of errors made in both 2010-11 and in the current year in the second half July.”

When asked how long the students have to provide proper documentation for their grants, FSCJ’s president Wallace said that the time period is 30 days, but they will probably be lenient about the deadline.

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