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December 19, 2013 9:52:49 AM
The Columbus Municipal School board on Monday voted unanimously to return a $75,000 grant and officially end Project 2020.
The money will return to the Wal-Mart Foundation. The grant was intended to help fund Project 2020, a dropout prevention program created by former superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell.
Controversy surrounded the grant for a year. In September, the board voted to turn down the money in full. Monday night's decision officially ends Project 2020, a project that never made it off the ground.
Board president Jason Spears said the grant was returned because the district was not moving forward with Project 2020.
"After additional investigation of the situation it was determined that we would be unable to follow through with requirements of the grant," Spears said.
The controversy began in early 2012 when the district's central office received a check for $75,000 from the Wal-Mart Foundation. Although the check was mailed to the office's MacArthur Drive address and the attached letter was addressed to Liddell, the check was made out to Ginomai Ministries and not the school district. Ginomai Ministries is a non-profit organization operated by Genesis Church.
According to Spears, board members felt uncomfortable depositing a check into their bank account that was not made out to the district. The board wanted to give the check to Ginomai, who would deposit the check into its account and then write a check to the school district. Before the board could give Genesis Church the check, the money was deposited into the school's account without board approval. The board then voted to cut Ginomai Ministries a $75,000 check with the understanding that Ginomai Ministries would then turn around and write the district a check for $75,000.
Before the board would give Ginomai the money, Liddell and board attorney David Dunn met with Genesis pastor Darren Leach to confirm Ginomai's 501(c)3 tax-exempt status. During the course of that meeting, Leach revealed that Ginomai lost their 501(c)3 standing.
The district had already cut a check to Ginomai Ministries for $75,000 so the check sat in the district's bank account pending Ginomai's regaining their tax-exempt status. As of Monday night's board meeting, Ginomai had still not regained their tax-exempt status.
The board voted to void the check written to Ginomai Ministries and return the $75,000 to the Wal-Mart Foundation.
According to the resolution, "the Project 2020 Dropout Prevention Program will not be implemented."
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.
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