Melmer Consulting Firm Charges Spearfish 42% More than Sioux Valley for Supt Search

…and gets contract amidst violation of open-meetings law.

In my Friday report on Tom Oster’s Bollen-esque privatization of his public duty to help his employer, the Sioux Valley School District in Volga, identify good candidates for his replacement, I noted that Oster and fellow GOP crony Rick Melmer’s consulting firm, Dakota Educational Consulting, has also landed a contract to conduct Spearfish’s superintendent search.

In a special meeting on December 3, the Spearfish school board accepted the superintendent-search proposal from Dakota Educational Consulting’s John Pedersen, another former superintendent now cashing in on his connections. The contract is for $8,500, 42% more than the $6,000 Dakota Educational Consulting is charging Sioux Valley.

Maybe I’m missing something. Volga is a nice little town, and it’s close to Brookings, which is the Spearfish of East River. But I’ve lived in Spearfish and worked in their school district. It’s a heck of a town with a heck of a good school system. The idea that it will be 42% harder to recruit a superintendent to Spearfish than to Volga boggles me.

Also raising my eyebrows is the fact that, according to the minutes, the Spearfish school board appears to have discussed contracting with Dakota Educational Consulting in executive session:

A SPECIAL MEETING OF THE SCHOOL BOARD OF SPEARFISH SCHOOL DISTRICT 40-2, LAWRENCE COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA, WAS HELD AT THE ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE BUILDING ON THE 3RD DAY OF DECEMBER 2015. THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS WERE PRESENT: President Jeff Sleep, Vice President Amy Cermak, Nancy Hall, Mitch Hopewell and Mistie Caldwell. Others present were: Craig Crosswait, Steve Morford, Dan Olson, Nick Gottlob, Randall Royer, John Pederson and Don Hague.

All motions were passed by unanimous vote unless stated otherwise.

President Sleep called the meeting to order at 4:05 p.m.

President Sleep led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Motion was made by Cermak, seconded by Hall and carried to approve the agenda.

Proposals from superintendent search firms were presented.

Motion was made by Hall, seconded by Hopewell and carried to move into executive session. 1-25-2(1) Discussing the qualifications, competence, performance, character or fitness of anypublic officer or employee or prospective public officer or employee. 5:07 p.m.

The Board came out of executive session the special meeting resumed. 6:00 p.m.

Based on discussion of qualifications of the superintendent position relative to expertise, resources and reputation of the presenters, motion was made by Cermak, seconded by Hopewell and carried to approve the proposal from John Pederson with DEC for $8,500 plus other costs as stated.

Motion was made by Caldwell, seconded by Hall and carried to adjourn the meeting. 6:01 p.m. [Spearfish school board, minutes, special meeting, 2015.12.03]

The statutory clause the board cites to justify closing the doors for executive session reads as follows:

Executive or closed meetings may be held for the sole purposes of:  (1) Discussing the qualifications, competence, performance, character or fitness of any public officer or employee or prospective public officer or employee. The term “employee” does not include any independent contractor;… [SDCL 1-25-2(1)].

If the board wanted to talk about all the good qualities of outgoing superintendent Dave Peters that they want to find in their next exec, then they could invoke SDCL1-25-2(1) to have a closed meeting. But it appears they went into executive session to discuss the merits of independent contractors, which SDCL 1-25-2(1) explicitly says they cannot do. (Note to the board: always read the full statutory clause.) Paging the Open Meetings Commission….

23 Responses to Melmer Consulting Firm Charges Spearfish 42% More than Sioux Valley for Supt Search

  1. larry kurtz

    Brookings is the Belle Fourche of East River.

  2. Travis Wicks

    I’m not defending it in any way, but could the rationale for the different figures charged to Spearfish and Sioux Valley school districts be based on a percentage of the probable salary range for the superintendent position? I would assume the super for Spearfish would earn a higher salary than one for a smaller district, such as Sioux Valley…

  3. Housing/lodging costs are more expensive in the hills right? General cost of living higher there too?

    Don’t some school districts get into a bind and need a Supt to fill in whether it be a temp or more of a perm basis? When you have Supts that have years of experience shouldn’t they be compensated at market value based on their education and experience?

    This post seems to be going overboard looking for things that are not there and a good way to alienate people that are actually allies for change.

  4. alienate people that could* be allies for change.

  5. And six years ago, Spearfish superintendent was making $10,700 (12%) more than Sioux Valley super:

  6. It’s market driven.

  7. Yes, it’s market driven. Also, it is a local government conducting local control and I think we who live outside that school district should close our maws unless we really know what’s going on there. Even former teachers, heck for that matter current teachers, don’t know all the reasons behind the actions of the good school board there.

  8. one can’t deny Open Meetings law was ignored!

  9. One might deny ignoring open meeting rules.

    Even if those rules were ignored, there are no teeth so the school board would get a naughty letter from the board. I’m sure they would be devastated.

    I am sure that everything was likely done completely approriately

  10. Nick Nemec

    Here in South Dakota we have weak open meeting laws and a weak open meeting culture, as a result their is little demand among boards and commissions for open meetings and the citizens don’t know any better. It’s a sad legacy of over 125 years of nearly complete Republican rule.

  11. Alienate people? Heck, the Spearfish School Board hired me for a great teaching gig, but my gratitude to them for that opportunity doesn’t change the fact that they appear to have violated open meetings law. I tell even my best friends they need to follow the law… and not waste money on consultant middlemen.

  12. Next time Dave Bordewyk and the toothless S.D. Press Association go on a crusade to plug holes in the lawbooks, they need to be much smarter. Put severe penalties in the laws, examine all laws skeptically and make amends. Do NOT compromise with crooks like Jason Gant, which is what happened last time. Do not invite legislators to be on your panel. They had their chance, and they made a fool of the SDPA. If they don’t want to be part of the solution, put the spotlights on the crooks, Dave, and go to the citizens of South Dakota as a professional witness for the principles of your organization.

    Keep in mind that nobody in Pierre is to be trusted, especially the Attorney General’s office. Make it impossible for them to slack off. Put recall laws in the state constitution to rid our state of criminals. Put control back in the hands of the people.

  13. Standard executive recruiting rates can be as high as 25% of annual salary with 15% being the low end of the norm.

  14. One mentioned in the post for example has extensive experience, is very well respected and within their profession they naturally network like any profession where there could be opportunities for each other.

  15. The two former Secretary’s of Education of the Rounds era who were looking out for the good of our children’s education. It appears that teacher pay and quality education was not their focus, it was all about money for themselves. Rich Bastards.

  16. Were all persons present invited into Executive Session? The minutes record such.

  17. 96, indeed, it appears there’s not much penalty for violating open meetings laws: Class 2 misdemeanor, and the Open Meetings Commission may issue a public reprimand. I wonder: should a violation trigger an automatic recall election? Is losing a seat the only real punishment that will keep board members from keeping secrets?

  18. Sioux Valley appears to have almost caught up with Spearfish on superintendent pay. An eager reader sends these updated superintendent salary figures:

    1. Sioux Falls: $220,000*
    2. Harrisburg: $156,000.00
    3. Brookings: $155,000.00
    4. Aberdeen: $139,377.00
    5. Mitchell: $128,550.00
    6. Watertown: $128,548.00
    7. Yankton: $128,544.00
    8. Pierre: $126,878.00
    9. Douglas: $125,731.00
    10. Huron: $125,283.00
    11. Meade: $125,000.00
    12. Dakota Valley: $124,000.00
    13. Vermillion: $117,310.00
    14. Spearfish: $116,799.96
    15. Sioux Valley: $115,000.00
    16. West Central: $113,310.00

    *Updated 2015.12.28

  19. Spearfish also has offers a larger general fund pot than on which consultants can bid. In FY2015, Spearfish’s general fund expenditure was $12.6 million; Sioux Valley’s was $4.0 million.

    See FY2015 revenue/expenditure data for all school districts here:

  20. That list offers up a way to give some of the good teachers raises.

  21. While SD teacher pay is 51st in the nation, SD school administrator pay is 28 in the nation.

  22. Ror, do you have a source on that figure? The Blue Ribbon final report shows that we spend 8.3% of our ed budget on administrators, higher than the 7.4% average and our neighboring states’ average of 8.1%, but concluded that “administration expenses are in line with national and regional comparisons, and that this is not a significant opportunity for savings.”

  23. Jason Sebern

    I would like to see how those Superintendent salaries compare to teacher salaries in those districts. You would assume that Harrisburg would have the 2nd best paid teachers in the state. You would assume that Brookings would be ranked #3.