When Minnie K. Patton wrote her will, she left a portion of her estate to the Dallas County Community College District Foundation to create a scholarship in her name. She'd grown up poor and uneducated in rural Oklahoma and wanted to give students the shot at upward mobility that she wouldn't have had had she not married into money.
Her will didn't provide many guidelines for doling out the scholarships, stipulating only that recipients "must demonstrate their capacity and desire for their education as well as their need for assistance." The task of deciding which students fit those criteria fell to Daphne Hughes, who was put in charge of DCCCD's scholarship program in May 2011.
Her method of doing this quickly raised eyebrows. In July 2012, an employee of El Centro college complained to district auditors that the school's scholarship committee found itself with only enough money to fund six out of more than 50 applications for the Minnie K. Patton Scholarship; the funds are supposed to be divvied equally among the district's seven campuses.
A subsequent investigation revealed that this was largely because Hughes had handed many of the scholarships to current and former coworkers, their friends and family members. Oh, and to one more person: herself.
DCCCD redacted the amounts of these awards from an internal audit report provided to the Observer, citing federal student privacy laws, but other data in the document give at least a clue. According to the audit, Hughes posted two-thirds of the 54 scholarships awarded in the spring and fall of 2012 to students' accounts. Of those, auditors flagged a dozen as questionable.
If Hughes and her friends received the average award amount of $800, that's $9,600 in questionable expenditures. If they received the maximum $3,000 award, that number is $36,000.
In a meeting with auditors to discuss the report, Hughes said she knew she violated policy in awarding a scholarship to herself and had no excuse. She was fired.
The audit report also faults Ella Shaw, who oversees scholarship programs for the DCCCD Foundation (a nonprofit that is separate from the district), for failing to, you know, oversee the scholarship program. According to the report, Shaw put Shaw in charge of handing out the awards rather than informing each of the financial aid offices of each campus, as she was supposed to do. It was quicker that way, she told auditors.
The report concludes by recommending that DCCCD implement much stronger financial controls on the MKP scholarship and establish an independent committee to make the awards.
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"It can be argued that the awards would have been made regardless of these relationships; however, the perception of favoritism cannot be denied," the audit states. "The District and the Foundation do not need the negative media narrative that would be created by the disclosure of these awards."