…and Financial Priority on Consultants and Contractors, Not Scholarships
South Dakota’s original 2005 GEAR UP grant application, posted and analyzed last week by Angela Kennecke, is chock full of details and errors that deserve our attention.
As expected, we see Dr. Rick Melmer, then Secretary of Education, listed as the authorizing state official. As we all know, Secretary Melmer steered management of GEAR UP to the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative back in Platte, in his home county of Charles Mix, then, following his departure from Pierre and the renewal of the GEAR UP grant, moonlit for Mid-Central doing GEAR UP work for six figures. In other words, a former Secretary of Education approved a grant application which subsequently provided him a substantial income opportunity.
We also see Wade Pogany, Melmer’s former director of curriculum and instruction at DOE, listed in the 2005 GEAR UP app as GEAR UP point of contact and grant director:
Wade Pogany, State of South Dakota Point of Contact, is the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for the SD Department of Education will oversee the operation of the grant. In his current capacity as director Mr. Pogany is responsible for several federal programs as well as the management of the Governor’s 2010 Education Initiative. The GEAR UP grant will play a significant part in the Governor’s initiative in helping Native American students increase their academic achievement. The 2010 Education Initiative strives toward reform minded strategies to improve education in the state of South Dakota through three focus areas: early childhood interventions, focus on teacher retention, and training, and a strong emphasis on high school reform. His previous experience has been involved in public education as a principal and teacher [South Dakota GEAR UP grant application, 2005.04.11, p. e56].
Ah, so GEAR UP was part of Governor Mike Rounds’s 2010 Education Initiative? Well, there’s another part of Rounds’s failed legacy that saw more results in cronyism than in documentable improvements for the intended recipients.
…The South Dakota Office of Education will provide support to the grant activities through the work of a project director, Mr. Wade Pogany. Mr. Pogany will over see the preparation of Federal Reports, review and disseminate reports from the evaluation team and provide feedback to the superintendents of participating schools on a regular basis. Mr. Pogany is a full-time employee of the State of South Dakota Department of Education and will be assigned a five percent (.05) of his time to the project. This time will be considered an in-kind contribution to the grant activities [SD GEAR UP app 2005, p. e79].
Angela Kennecke spoke with Pogany, who now heads up the Associated School Boards of South Dakota. Pogany tells her that he was never director of the GEAR UP grant. He says his name must have gotten attached to it when work was being done on South Dakota’s application, but that he never actually administered the grant [Angela Kennecke, “South Dakota’s Original GEAR UP Grant Application Revealed,” KELO-TV, 2016.01.11].
If Pogany didn’t do the work the state claimed he would in its application, neither did the Academy for Educational Development, AED, the entity that was supposed to conduct the external evaluation of South Dakota’s use of GEAR UP money:
The Academy for Educational Development (AED), a Washington, D.C. based non-profit organization, will serve as the external evaluators for this project under the leadership of the PI. For the last 25 years, AED’s Higher Education Management Services Center (HEMS) has evaluated federal grant programs and agencies, including GEAR UP. This project will utilize AED’s pioneering online longitudinal data collection and analysis tool, which has been used very successfully with GEAR UP projects in KY and PA [SD GEAR UP app 2005, p. e67].
Kennecke reports that the state and AED had some dust up and couldn’t work with each other… but South Dakota was able to do business with Brinda Kuhn, who apparently quit AED and moved to South Dakota just in time to become the state’s GEAR UP evaluator and make seven figures working on GEAR UP and, subsequently, other grant programs for Mid-Central. We may have come out no worse for that switch—AED got in trouble with the feds for poor controls against corruption; it now evaluates Pennsylvania’s GEAR UP under the corporate name FHI 360.
Digging through this hastily assembled application reveals a wealth of sentence fragments and other writing errors, but where the app should most blatantly flunk the public policy test is its math. Check out the dollar amounts requested from the feds and the state resources pledged to match:
The state planned to spend $959K of federal dollars a year on consultants and contracts and just $50K on scholarships and tuition assistance for American Indian students. Non-federal matching funds were budgeted to add $30K for consultants and contracts and just $15K to actually help kids pay for college. There’s nothing like a simple budget table to help us understand the state’s priorities.
And don’t forget: none of those priorities would have been funded with GEAR UP dollars if it hadn’t been for Mike Rounds’s signature:
Expect Kennecke’s next interview to be with Senator Rounds, who will explain that his name, like Pogany’s, must have gotten attached to South Dakota’s 2005 GEAR UP application by accident.