In over three hours of testimony to the the Government Operations and Audit Committee in Pierre yesterday, Secretary of Education Melody Schopp said none of the money that Scott Westerhuis and his helpers stole from the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative before his spectacular murder-suicide in September 2015 was stolen from the feds or her department:
State government’s Department of Legislative Audit determined $1.4 million was missing after finishing a special review of Mid Central Educational Cooperative at Platte.
Auditor General Marty Guindon released the review May 19.
But Schopp said Monday the money didn’t come from Gear Up funds her department oversaw.
“That is the biggest takeaway—there was no Gear Up money stolen,” Schopp said. “They were not from Gear Up funds, as has been promoted in the last couple of years.”
She added, “It was not misappropriated from the state” [Bob Mercer, “Schopp Says No Missing Money Came from GEAR UP Program,” Watertown Public Opinion, 2017.07.24].
Secretary Schopp also noted that the feds have accepted the valuation of software used to satisfy GEAR UP grant matching requirements and have not asked the state to pay back any GEAR UP money. That puzzles me a bit, since the state last month sued Mid-Central and its members schools for $4.5 million, largely to recover missing matching funds.
Secretary Schopp’s statements seem geared toward keeping GOAC and Uncle Sam off her department’s back and out of her department’s budget. I am skeptical: business manager Scott Westerhuis was able to use Mid-Central’s bank accounts as his personal ATM in no small part because the state funneled millions of dollars from multiple federal programs into a small rural school cooperative (on the former education secretary’s home turf) whose staff was too small to provide proper oversight. The Department of Legislative Audit may have found that Westerhuis was able to put back all but $1.4 million of the $7.8 million he illegally withdrew, but when Westerhuis was moving money around, the presence of millions of federal GEAR UP dollars on the books made it much easier for him to hide his crimes.