Kennecke: GEAR UP Marred by Conflicts of Interest, Too Little State Involvement, Too Little Evaluation

Warming up for Attorney General Marty Jackley’s press conference in Platte today at 1 p.m. Central, Angela Kennecke goes to town on the state’s GEAR UP grant application and finds numerous causes for concern. Consulting with grant expert Michael Wyland, Kenncke identifies conflicts of interest that may justify the state Department of Education’s cancellation of Mid-Central Educational Cooperative’s contract to run GEAR UP:

Stacy Phelps was the GEAR UP grant project coordinator.  At the same time, he was acting as the Chief Executive Officer of the American Indian Institute of Innovation, the very same group that got the money to run the GEAR UP programs in the schools.  And Phelps’s wife, Alice, was on AIII’s payroll for $90,000 a year, according to the foundation’s IRS returns.  One of the reasons, the state cancelled its contract with Mid Central was due to conflict of interest and failure to disclose related parties [Angela Kennecke, “SD GEAR UP Grant Application,” KELO-TV, 2015.11.02].

But Kennecke also finds the Department of Education may have broken its obligations to the feds by contracting out duties that its application said would be handled by the state:

It starts with who’s actually responsible for what.  According to the application, the State Department of Education is the lead partner and fiscal agent for the program.  In the application, the Department of Ed committed to hiring 13 full-time employees to work on the grant activities and to hire the independent evaluator of the program among, other things.  But the state tells KELOLAND News all of that was contracted out with Mid Central [Kennecke, 2015.11.02].

Interestingly, where I have wondered why Mid-Central paid BC Kuhn and PERGroup so much for evaluation services, grant expert Wyland says the DoE and MCEC should have been spending more on evaluation:

Wyland also believes the evaluation of the GEAR UP program in South Dakota was underfunded.  $85,000 a year was set aside for the evaluation.  Wyland says it should have been $150,000 a year or more to do an effective evaluation [Kennecke, 2015.11.02].

We’ll see this afternoon whether Attorney General Jackley connects any of these problems with the deaths of the Westerhuis family and the fiery destruction of their home south of Platte or whether his news conference will focus strictly on the evidence and conclusions at the scene of that crime.

21 Responses to Kennecke: GEAR UP Marred by Conflicts of Interest, Too Little State Involvement, Too Little Evaluation

  1. Go get ’em, Angie baby!!! She’s a tiger as an investigative reporter. The best thing that has happened to journalism in many years was getting her unstuck from that desk job and cutting her loose on the bad guys.

  2. According to these Fed Education Grants, 50-75% are supposed to be used for scholarships for Native Americans. SD asked for a waiver from this, so they used no money for Native American scholarships.
    Gee – racist much, SD? Greedy bastards. Is there anyone that has a conscience running SD state govt?

  3. Shirley Schwab

    Four years ago tomorrow (Nov 4, 2011), the State of South Dakota began it’s mission to destroy, discredit and eliminate one of the most horrific cases of child sexual abuse the state had ever known – the Mette children sexual abuse scandal of (Brown County) Aberdeen, SD.

    Five helpless Native American children had been forced to endure over a decade of horrific child sexual abuse at the hands of SD licensed foster/adoptive parents with undisputed evidence the South Dakota Department of Social Services was well aware of the abuse and complicit in covering up that abuse.

    The Schwab/Taliaferro malicious prosecution followed with the five Mette Native American children simply becoming ‘collateral damage’ as the State of South Dakota put forth a full court press to destroy any possibility these children would have to pursue a civil lawsuit against the State of South Dakota on their behalf.

    On a side note: the EB-5 story, GEAR-UP and the Mette scandal consist of several common principal players throughout.

    It is time the people of South Dakota make a conscious decision to work together to expose the unacceptable corruption that continues in our state today and hold accountable those who are responsible.

  4. Angie missed one of Phelps’ other conflicts of interest, until very recently he was on the State Board of Education. So, let’s make it a hat trick of conflicts: State Board of Education, Gear Up, AIII

  5. I’ve mentioned this before on this site, and I’m still concerned.

    All this corruption came to light because of the terrible tragedy in Platte. Are the other educational cooperatives being investigated for corruption? Do they manage grants? Please please please someone investigate them so that corruption in the educational coops can be found BEFORE another terrible tragedy occurs.

  6. mike from iowa

    Ms Schwab,speaking fom distant iowa,I’m afraid justice may have to wait until there is a total regime change in your state. Jackley and crew don’t appear to be interested in finding themselves guilty of anything. Too bad you don’t have a Tom Miller AG. I doubt he would allow these injustices to remain on the books.

  7. Disgusted Dakotan

    So many overpaid Superintendents on the payroll and there wasn’t enough oversight? The question is then generated, is there this type of corruption in the administration of their districts?

    There is a reason SD ranks so high In corruption every year. Such highlighted corruption as the EB5, and now this.. and not one indictment by Marty Jackley? Best goal keeper any corrupt organization could ever dream of having.

  8. owen reitzel

    Press conference was a waste of time. Nothing new.
    Photo op for Jackley.
    Plus I’ve I’ve never seen a press conference begin with a prayer. Anybody seen this before?

  9. Dana—-good question about educational cooperatives and conflicts of interest.

    TIE is the west river equivalent of Mid Central, and TIE’s Director of Technology and Innovation sits on the state Board of Education. Sounds all too familiar, right? These conflicts and cozy relationships have been accepted for far too long in our state.

  10. Owen – Agreed. The prayer was a weird start to what was a useless press conference. There was nothing said that wasn’t suitable for a press release. Chalk it up to Jackley’s gubernatorial aspirations. Jackley wouldn’t discuss the corruption case and isolated the conversation to the fire and murders.

    The only revelation was no evidence of a safe in the house, which led to three alternatives:

    1. It was destroyed in the fire. (Not likely all evidence of the safe would vanish, even with a large fire.)

    2. Scott Westerhuis took the safe to another location and nobody knows where it is.

    3. Somebody took the safe (and that opens the door to somebody else having killed the family and starting the fire).

  11. The prayer was just a way to imply to the viewers they’re good little Republican Christians. Don’t worry about these annoying little state affairs mishaps. We’ll pray them away.

  12. Jenny hit the nail on the head. Another piece of Christianist theater for the gullible. Gonna take a lot more than three cases of monumental misdeeds to convince the sheeple of South Dakota they need far fewer Republicans calling the shots in Pierre and on down the food chain. “You don’t understand, it’s different in South Dakota.”
    Damn right it is. It you’re a pol with an “R” after your name, you get a free pass.

  13. The Write Stuff

    Should I be shocked that this presser left me with more questions than answers? Why can’t the fire investigators tell what type of accelerant was used? This would be important because of where it may have come from, (security cameras could catch purchaser, bank records could catch purchase, store associates may recall making the sale, etc.) They obviously know there was one used, since it’s mentioned multiple times.
    Conveniently, Nicole’s cell phone contract had been terminated sometime during the investigation by her employer (Midstate) who paid for it, so we can’t find out what was on that 43 seconds of a message that was left by the Westerhuis’s landline at 2:57 am, presumably before the fire started. Even though the phone was thought to have been destroyed in the fire, it would seem that the voicemail should still have been forensically retrievable from the service provider/carrier. Might it still be? I mean, come on, we live in 2015 – we found water on Mars, we can retrieve deleted email from servers that have been destroyed, we can clone sheep…….well, you get my point.
    And last but not least, the great “Safe Caper” ……….where did it go? Most people purchase a safe because it is guaranteed fireproof. I am not intending to be conspiratorial here, but deep down in my gut, methinks that with all this smoke, there are also some mirrors involved.

  14. While prayer before an event seems odd, it is a very very common thing in the Platte area.

  15. I’m sure many in Pierre are praying about this. Praying it will just go away that is.

  16. Shirley, on common principal players, SDPB Radio asked Professor Jon Schaff, a known Republican, if he thought the spate of South Dakota scandals was “purely coincidental” or suggested “a pattern showing a lack of oversight in state government.” Schaff replied thus:

    Sometimes bad things happen next to each other as mere happenstance, and there is no relationship between them. And so the fact that two particularly tragic scandals, or scandals with tragic outcomes, have happened to occur within the last year to a year and a half doesn’t necessarily mean that there is pattern. But I think we’d be fools not to look into that [Dr. Jon Schaff, in Charles Michael Ray, “Poli Sci Profs: Corruption Scandals Prompt Questions On Oversight,” SDPB Radio, 2015.11.03].

    We’d be fools not to look into the connections.

  17. Disgusted, I wouldn’t leap to hang the corruption on the supes. The problem may be too many cooks. Back in their own districts, supes can run their own show with an iron fist. In the coops, they are a committee, no one of them with supreme butt-kicking authority. The coop director could bamboozle them… or a business manager on the take could buffalo a coop exec who’s not paying attention, and the coop exec would pass on the happy whitewash to the board of supes.

    Similarly to Dana’s concern about oversight at other coops—before we go ape on all school districts and all coops, let’s get clear on exactly what happened at Mid-Central. That investigation itself already casts a wide net, pulling in Rick Melmer, Stacy Phelps, Joe Graves, Lance Witte… digging up all of MCEC’s books may identify a lot of trouble and scare anyone else up to monkeyshines into lying low and playing straight for a while.

  18. That said, I think The King is on the right trail to look at TIE/Black Hills Special Services next. They have the biggest budget of all the coops, more expenditures than MCEC, if I recall correctly.

    Bonus: Heather Schopp, daughter of Education Secretary Melody Schopp, is a grant evaluator and services coordinator at Black Hills Special Services.

  19. Lanny V Stricherz

    To your third point, 96 Tears, I absolutely concur and I would like to know whatever happened to the “rumor” of that black car parked in the driveway at 4 AM but gone when the sun came up?

  20. So who’s been the grant evaluator since MidCentral started receiving GEAR Up funds?