Stacy Phelps served on the state Board of Education while personally profiting from his work executing the GEAR UP grant farmed out to the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative by the Department of Education. Governor Dennis Daugaard denied that dual position represented a conflict of interest, but Phelps resigned from the board last October.
Kelly Duncan served on the state Board of Education while personally profiting from her work evaluating the GEAR UP grant and carrying out other contract work for Mid-Central. That sure looks like a conflict of interest, but Duncan continues to serve on the Board of Education.
Julie Mathiesen served on the State Board of Education while directing the Technology in Education division of the Black Hills Special Services Cooperative, which receives all sorts of grants and contract work through the Department of Education. Mathiesen has insisted she has no conflict of interest, because the contracts she signs are not between the state and herself personally. Mathiesen maintains that position, even though she resigned from the Board of Education in May to avoid running afoul of the state’s new conflict-of-interest law:
Gov. Dennis Daugaard originally appointed Mathiesen to the state board in 2011 in part because of her work at TIE and her experience as a high school teacher in art and biology. He later reappointed her to another term.
Mathiesen cited the new law in the letter of resignation she submitted “with regret” to the governor.
“I stand by my belief that my position on the BOE is not in conflict with my work in education because the board does not approve or oversee contracts,” she wrote.
“However, recent legislative action and the associated reporting measures will create a situation that could be distracting to the work of BOE as well as to my employer,” she continued.
Mathiesen made clear the state board reaches policy decisions and none of the financial information affecting her has been secret.
“I’m a proponent of open government and transparency and all the state contracts associated with my employer, which is a political subdivision of the state, are readily available on open.sd.gov,” she wrote.
“In addition to contracts with the state, my employer frequently engages in contracts to support professional learning in school districts, which are also political subdivisions of the state” [Bob Mercer, “New Conflicts Law Led to Resignation of Board of Ed Appointee,” Black Hills Pioneer, 2016.06].
No conflicts, just “distractions.” What does it take to get people in state government to admit there’s a problem?
Update 10:21 CDT: Kelly Duncan seeks a waiver from the new conflict-of-interest rules created by House Bill 1214 based on her position as dean of education at Northern State University. Susan Aguilar, Don Kirkegaard, and Glenna Fouberg also seek waivers. The Board of Education is discussing those waiver requests… because when we do conflict-of-interest legislation in South Dakota, we think it’s a good idea let the boards where such conflicts might happen make their decision about whether to apply the rules to their own members rather than complicating matters with some sort of independent review by, oh, say, a statewide ethics commission.