Former state education secretaries Rick Melmer and Tom Oster, both appointees of Mike Rounds, run a consulting firm, Dakota Education Services. According to one of their websites, Melmer and Oster are currently helping four schools search for superintendents: Spearfish, Arlington, Dakota Valley in North Sioux City, and Sioux Valley in Volga.
Tom Oster also works for Sioux Valley. He’s the superintendent that his consulting firm is helping replace.
Hmmm… wouldn’t one think that a school board could say to a retiring superintendent, “Hey, could you go through these résumés and pick the top ten for us?” as a normal part of the superintendent’s duties? Doesn’t it sound peculiar that a public employee would get to draw an additional check for outsourcing his public duties to his own private company?
It sounds peculiar to some Volga locals and Angela Kennecke:
The Sioux Valley School District is paying Oster’s firm $6,000 to find his replacement, and a retired teacher and her husband say that’s clearly a conflict of interest.
“It’s an obvious conflict of interest, when they hire a consulting firm made up of Dr. Melmer and the current superintendent to find his own replacement and pay him to do that,” Lyle Anderson said.
Lyle and Pat Anderson felt so strongly about it, they wrote a letter to the editor in the Volga Tribune voicing their concerns.
“But I also wonder if the board had any other options. Did they look at any other options or did they just take the first, easy opportunity that was there?” Pat Anderson said.
“We looked at other firms, but it was clear with Mr. Melmer’s experience as Secretary of Education under Governor Round’s cabinet, there was no one who had his connectivity, network and reach in the state in terms of knowing about highly qualified candidates to serve our students,” Doug Wermedal, Chairman of Sioux Valley School Board, said [Angela Kennecke, “Superintendent’s Own Consulting Firm Will Find His Replacement,” KELO-TV, 2015.12.17].
Sioux Valley is getting a deal: when Melmer and Oster did this same work for the Yankton school district in 2013, they charged the taxpayers $8,000. Perhaps it’s a return-customer discount: Sioux Valley engaged Melmer’s firm during its last superintendent search in 2011, which resulted in hiring Oster after Dennis Daugaard thanked Oster for his service as Education Secretary. After Sioux Valley hired Oster, Melmer made Oster a partner in the consulting firm.
Yes, we’re all friends here.
Perhaps someone is even better friends at Arlington. That school district 13 miles west of Volga is getting Melmer and Oster to do their superintendent search for just $5,500.
Dakota Educational Services provides this list of past clients whom Melmer and Oster have convinced not to trust their own wits in hiring and mentoring:
- Alta/Aurelia Community School Districts, IA – Superintendent Search
- Sioux Valley School District, SD – Superintendent Search, Business Manager Search
- Sibley-Ocheyedan Community School District, IA – Superintendent Search
- Rock Valley Community School District, IA – Superintendent Search
- Storm Lake Community School District, IA – Superintendent Search
- Hartley-Melvin- Sanborn Community School District, IA – Superintendent Search
- Canistota School District, SD – Superintendent Search
- Britton-Hecla, SD – Superintendent Search
- Estelline School District – Superintendent Search
- Big Stone City School District – Superintendent Search
- School Administrators of South Dakota – Executive Director
- South Dakota Department of Education – Program Directors
- Platte-Geddes School District – Superintendent Search and Mentoring Services
- Lyman County School District – Mentoring Services
- Chamberlain School District – Mentoring Services
- Chester Area School Distrcit – Superintendent Search
- Stanley County School District – Superintendent Search
- Wagner Community School District – Superintendent Search
- Viborg-Hurley School District – Superintendent Search
- Aberdeen Roncali School District – Superintendent Search
- Yankston School District – Superintendent Search
- ASBSD Assistant Executive Director Search
Melmer and Oster have done some work (should that be in quote marks?) for the administrators’ and school boards’ organizations, and they jumped the secular line once to work (?) for the Aberdeen Catholic schools, but for the most part, they make their money by telling public school boards, elected and paid by the taxpayers, that we poor yokels can’t run our schools without Melmer and Oster’s vast experience and network connections, which were built, of course, as they enjoyed their own prominent public-sector jobs.
p.s.: Melmer and Oster are expanding their network by hosting Leadership South Dakota. 43 eager participants in the Leadership SD’s second year next gather January 7–9 in Sioux Falls to learn about the wonderful world of health care.
pp.s.: Lawyer Scott Swier promoted Dakota Educational Consulting’s new website in his September 2014 School Law Notes newsletter and on his Swier Law Firm website. Swier is the attorney for scandal-sticken Mid-Central Educational Cooperative, whose scandal includes hiring the forgetful Melmer to add value for Native American students with a six-figure moonlighting contract. Again, we are all friends here.