SMC loses Upward Bound funding

Published 9:05 pm Wednesday, November 12, 2003

By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Southwestern Michigan College lost a four-year grant for $936,000 after a Wyoming consultant missed a filing deadline for the Upward Bound program, which tutored 50 at-risk Dowagiac and Cassopolis high school students.
SMC, the two-year community college with campuses in Dowagiac and Niles, could not afford to continue Upward Bound without the grant, so absorbed them into the hundreds served by Educational Talent Search along with Deane Suddon and her small staff.
Upward Bound included some summer academic enrichment, lunches and transportation which are not part of ETS.
ETS, Upward Bound and Excel are part of TRIO, a U.S. Department of Education office.
The other Michigan school affected, Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, is out some $3.8 million for its 37-year-old Upward Bound program and two related programs.
Grant writer Bonnie Helm of Cheyenne, Wyo., was sentenced to three months in prison in October.
She was convicted of a misdemeanor of using illegally obtained postal equipment to backdate colleges' grant applications, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Wyoming reported.
Twenty other colleges, universities and non-profit agencies across the country which contracted with Helm to write U.S. Department of Education grants also experienced losses of their Upward Bound programs because of her belated applications.
In January, Helm admitted to postal inspectors that she illegally obtained U.S. Postal Service cancellation equipment in 1996 from a former Laramie, Wyo., postal contractor.
Helm informed investigators she backdated certain Department of Education grant applications for a period of years when she couldn't keep up with stringent Department of Education deadlines.
Mathews said SMC officials were thus not even aware the December 2002 deadline had been missed until Education Department officials disclosed that fact last spring when Helm was under investigation.
Helm not only came with impressive credentials in a very specialized arena of writing government grants for colleges and universities, she had been instrumental in SMC obtaining Upward Bound.
There was no evidence of wrongdoing by the schools and no reason to believe they had any knowledge of wrongdoing, but she still acted as their agent. It's the same as if a school employee did it in that the school must bear the brunt of the consequences.
SMC, for example, enlisted U.S. Rep. Fred Upton's office, as did other congressional members representing the 22 schools affected by Helm's actions, to appeal, but the Department of Education has not had a change of heart.
Officials have said the lesson for the schools is not to let outside contractors have complete control of a project.
While Helm prepared grant applications, school officials should stay responsible for sending it in on time.
Writing TRIO grants is such a "sub specialty" that 97 to 100 points are needed to get funded.