Rep. Lance Russell (R-30/Hot Springs) takes a look at the Mid-Central/GEAR UP scandal and comes to an obvious conclusion: Melody Schopp should resign as Secretary of Education:
Republican State Representative Lance Russell of Hot Springs recently sent a letter to South Dakota Secretary of Education Melody Schopp, saying that the management of the GEAR UP grants concern him greatly.
…Russell adds that the utter lack of oversight of millions of dollars that were flowing through the Department with almost no accountability for a number of years is unacceptable.
…Russell’s letter to Schopp… states that he respectfully requests that Schopp resign her position of Secretary for the South Dakota Department of Education [Kevin Larsen, “Republican State Representative Asks for Education Secretary’s Resignation,” KCCR Radio, 2015.11.05].
Even the Democratic leadership in its response to Attorney General Marty Jackley’s failed attempt at press-conference closure Tuesday didn’t go as far as Rep. Russell. Minority Leaders Senator Billie Sutton (D-21/Burke) and Rep. Spence Hawley (D-7/Brookings) didn’t mention Secretary Schopp specifically; they stuck with general statements about the corruption that inevitably blooms under one-party rule.
The Department of Education rebuts Rep. Russell’s claim that they have exercised no oversight:
Secretary Schopp exercised oversight when she canceled the GEAR UP management contract because of her concerns with its administration. She is staying on the job and will continue to oversee this program. She is looking forward to the new partnership with the Board of Regents [Mary Stadick Smith, Department of Education spokesperson, e-mail to KCCR Radio, in Larsen, 2015.11.05].
That’s kind of like if Bill Clinton had said, I’ve stopped having sexual relations with that woman in the Oval Office, so you have no reason to say I’m not fit for the job. Rep. Russell cites a lack of oversight that went on for years and enriched GOP cronies. Secretary Schopp didn’t notice or didn’t want to notice anything was wrong until the Department of Legislative Audit dropped so much evidence in her lap that she had to act.
Secretary Schopp also oversaw the 2011 application that freed up far more money from GEAR UP to flow somewhere other than directly to Indian students it was intended to help:
[Grant expert Michael] Wyland also points out that the state’s objectives for the program are vague and hard to measure. And we discovered in the application that South Dakota applied for a waiver from having to use any of the money for college scholarships for Native American students.
“50 to 75 percent of GEAR UP funds are designed to be spent on scholarships. South Dakota requested a waiver to spend no money on scholarships, but rather to spend 100 percent of the grant on college preparedness and college readiness. And so that was a major departure from the original intent of the federal law,” Wyland said [Angela Kennecke, “SD GEAR UP Grant Application,” KELO-TV, 2015.11].
There’s a lot less money to disappear into “overhead” and “consulting” and big dang houses with two security systems if we’re writing checks directly to Indian kids or the colleges they choose to attend.
Rep. Russell is an occasional thorn in the side of the Republican establishment, so expect the GOP spin blog to accuse Rep. Russell along with Senator Sutton and Rep. Hawley of dancing on children’s graves. But Rep. Russell is calling for one of the basic actions of a true leader: to take responsibility for mistakes and, when those mistakes are sufficiently grave, to step down and let new leadership set things right.