The real kicker in Angela Kennecke’s latest GEAR UP story is at the bottom, where she notes that a Stacy Phelps chum and player in the scandal-plagued Mid-Central-run version of GEAR UP is now leading the Board of Regents version:
The Board of Regents has taken over the administration of the GEAR UP grant in South Dakota, but some of the same people are still involved in it. Statewide academic year coordinator Damon Leader Charge who has formed a new organization with former GEAR UP and A-III workers. He’s also reportedly a close friend with Stacy Phelps [Angela Kennecke, “Call for Reform Of College Prep Programs, Including GEAR UP Go Unanswered,” KELO-TV, 2016.04.19].
Black Hills State University lists Damon Leader Charge as having his office on their campus. Open.SD.Gov says Leader Charge’s salary as “coordinator” is $60,000 per year. Kennecke reports that the Regents chose Leader Charge out of 37 applicants.
On his LinkedIn page, Leader Charge lists his last professional position as “Regional Coordinator” for AIII, the American Indian Institute for Innovation, from September 2012 to September 2015. AIII was run by Stacy Phelps, who now faces charges for falsification of evidence in the GEAR UP scandal. AIII appears to be the corporate shell that Scott Westerhuis used to filch millions of dollars out of the Mid-Central budget.
In November 2012, Mid-Central Educational Cooperative approved a contract with Leader Charge to work as “Higher Education Liaison for the College Access grant at a yearly salary of $43,000.” In November 2013, Mid-Central terminated Leader Charge’s College Access contract, effective December 1, 2013, due to the feds’ cutting off South Dakota’s grant funding in response to Governor Dennis Daugaard’s budget miserliness. Mid-Central’s September 2015 minutes show Leader Charge receiving a $43,000 salary for the 2016 fiscal year. The December 2015 minutes show Mid-Central giving Leader Charge a $2,250 sick leave payout, along with several other GEAR UP staff axed in the September 2015 Schopp shakeup.
In January 2013, the Mid-Central board approved Leader Charge’s travel to the national GEAR UP conference in Las Vegas February 3–7 with Scott Westerhuis, Stephanie Hubers, Nicole Westerhuis, Glenn Drapeau, Lonnie Wright, Stacy Phelps, Mackenzie Casey, Debbie Phelps, and Randilynn Boucher. In January 2015, the board approved Leader Charge’s travel to a GEAR UP Capacity building workshop February 8–11 in Philadelphia with Korrinna Phelps, Karla Cuny, Darla Lerdal, Stacy Phelps, and Glenn Drapeau.
From December 2012 through December 2015, Mid-Central paid Leader Charge $8,761.49 in reimbursements for College Access expenses and $736.94 for GEAR UP expenses.
Kennecke reports that Leader Charge has formed a non-profit with other former GEAR UP contractees from Stacy Phelps’s American Indian Institute for Innovation. Kennecke torments us by not posting the name of the new organization, but she indicates she has a story on that subject coming tonight. Perhaps we will learn if the Board of Regents has already failed in its mission to clean up GEAR UP and has instead handed the program over to the same old operators.