Remember back in March 2016 when KELO-TV reported that the South Dakota Department of Education had received warnings about misuse of federal GEAR UP grant money back in 2011 and earlier? The then-anonymous sources weren’t kidding, but a warning received by DOE in early 2011 was almost immediately doused by the warner’s apology and apparent reversal.
The response Education Secretary Melody Schopp submitted today to the Government Operations and Audit Committee includes this e-mail from LuAnn Werdel, then-director of the state Office of Indian Education, to the then-new Secretary of Education Melody Schopp on January 10, 2011:
Seemingly key passages from Werdel to Schopp:
- “I have told you over and over what Stacy Phelps and Mid Centrail is [sic] doing with the GEAR UP grant and the College Access grant.”
- “Mark pulled me outside of the meeting and said he could not even believe what he was hearing in regards to the data and how mismanaged this grant has been due to Midcentral management.”
- “You told me last week not to worry so much about the grants and to focus on larger policy issues….”
Secretary Schopp waited a day to respond:
According to the documents included in Schopp’s August 22, 2017, GOAC submission, Werdel submitted that resignation e-mail at 1:49 p.m. that same day.
If the e-mail trail stopped here, we’d say, “Holy cow! There we go: Werdel warned Schopp of GEAR UP misconduct at Mid-Central in early 2011 and multiple times prior to that, and Schopp ignored it!”
But today Schopp shows us four e-mails Werdel sent right after that resignation. Three are emotional apologies to Schopp and others included on Werdel’s January 10 e-mail. Werdel expresses regret for embarrassing the Secretary, deems her January 10 comments “inappropriate,” and says she should have expressed any concerns in private.
More important, however, is a fourth, less emotional e-mail, in which Werdel expresses confidence in Stacy Phelps and Mid-Central’s then-exec Dan Guericke:
Key passage undermining Werdel’s January 10 statements:
…I can assure you that the program in in good hands. Mr. Dan Guericke, CEO of MidCentral Education, authorized representative of Wakan Glu, has a very experienced staff in regards to Indian Education. His program manager is Mr. Stacy Phelps, who sits on President Obama’s Advisory Council on Indian Education. I would not leave this program in anyone’s hands if I didn’t have the utmost confidence in their ability to run the program. They have a history of providing quality programs in SD [LuAnn Werdel, e-mail to Lana Shaughnessy, 2011.01.11].
Werdel’s warning on January 10, 2011, suggests that she had frequently warned Schopp of misconduct by Phelps and Mid-Central. However, Werdel’s comments specific to Phelps and Mid-Central the next day seem to undermine her warning.