GOAC Invites Testimony on Tri-Valley’s Blown Laptops-for-Homeschoolers Scheme

In what promises to be a wide-ranging meeting next week Thursday and probably Friday, the Government Operations and Audit Committee will discuss Tri-Valley school superintendent Mike Lodmel’s ill-fated gambit to inflate his enrollment numbers and the concomitant state funding by offering free laptop computers to homeschoolers who would attend Tri-Valley for one day, the final headcount day, September 29.

GOAC has invited Dr. Lodmel and his school board chair Leslie Johnson to attend the Thursday/Friday meeting at Carnegie Town Hall in Sioux Falls. GOAC simply tells Johnson that they want to ask about “how the school district determines fall enrollment, which is used in the determination of State Aid.” GOAC’s questions for Lodmel are more specific:

  1. Was the objective, of the Tri-Valley letter to parents of homeschool students, to have a one-day higher enrollment for the day the state education funding formula determines student enrollment?
  2. Are there other situations where school districts attempt to include students in their headcount that likely do not reflect their full-time student enrollment for the year?
  3. Are you aware of other school districts engaging in similar offers or behavior? If you are aware of similar types of offers, how long has this been going on?
  4. Would you support the Department of Legislative Audit examining 5-10 school districts that may have the highest disparity between the student enrollment figure for purposes of the funding formula and the number of high school graduates the previous spring (or some other objective measure)?
  5. What recommendations do you have for adjusting the school funding formula to avoid attempts to game student headcounts for purposes of garnering more state funds?
    1. Consider an alternative unannounced date for counting student enrollment?
    2. Make headcounts subject to a periodic audit?
    3. Have student headcounts periodically reviewed by the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee.
    4. Should there be a fine for any of this behavior which is uncovered? [GOAC to Mike Lodmel, 2017.09.21]

(In tiny digs, GOAC addresses its letter to “Mr. Lodmel”, not “Dr.”)

GOAC has also invited Dr. Lodmel’s neighbor (competitor?) Chester superintendent Heath Larson to respond to the third, fourth, and fifth+subpoints questions listed above. While Dr. Lodmel’s response either hasn’t arrived or hasn’t been posted to GOAC’s meeting webpage yet, Mr. Larson’s September 27 letter is online. Larson says he knows of no other schools besides Tri-Valley attempting to pad enrollment numbers (Larson doesn’t use those words, just refers to “this” and “recent attempt” in reference to GOAC’s language of “attempt to include students in their headcounts that likely do not reflect their full-time student enrollment”). He defends school districts and local control and responds cautiously to the suggestion of DLA action:

…I would not oppose nor support an examination from the Department of Legislative Audit for any school due to not knowing at this time if additional school staff would need to be hired or a disruption of the learning environment would occur [Heath Larson to GOAC, 2017.09.27].

Larson voices similar agnostic toward the other proposed legislative responses, asking if the Department of Education could manage an unannounced count date and if such a program would impinge on DOE’s ability to provide other “valuable technical assistance for school districts.” He says the Legislature should determine “if a fine is appropriate and if so, the respective amount,” although we should keep in mind that the Legislature can only determine a fine for future such activities, not for Lodmel’s already offered and rescinded enticements, which current law appears not to prohibit. Even if Attorney General Marty Jackley can find a statute under which to squeeze Lodmel, the court will determine the fine, not the Legislature.

GOAC convenes Thursday at 1 p.m., and Tri-Valley is the fifth item on the agenda. The meeting’s biggest potential potboiler, the GEAR UP/Mid-Central scandal, is sixth, so it’s possible GOAC could steam through the preceding items and get to Tri-Valley on Thursday.

Related: The religious wingnuts love this story, because they get to say “probed” and because they can use Lodmel’s gambit to show how evil public schools are. But even they, in the form of the Home School Legal Defense Association, admit Lodmel broke no law:

HSLDA, which found out about it when alarmed parents contacted the organization, concluded there was nothing technically or legally out of bounds for the families.

“This offer poses no problem of a strictly legal nature,” explained Scott Woodruff, the organization’s point person for the state.

However, he explained there are issues for parents to consider.

…HSLDA’s Woodruff suggested homeschooling parents keep in mind that South Dakota law requires children to get “certain immunizations” to be in public schools, and children in school for a single day could make comments about their homeschooling or family that could lead to further questions. He also asked them to consider “what message might parents send their children by putting them in a system that is forbidden from telling the truth about God” and by being willing to do something they don’t believe in for money.

He said HSLDA “provides no advocacy services with respect to a child who is enrolled full time in public school” [Bob Unruh, “Superintendent Probed for ‘Scam’ Involving Homeschoolers,” World Net Daily, 2017.09.29].

Keep an eye out for homeschool advocates at Thursday’s GOAC hearing in Sioux Falls telling their stories to legislators off mic. Heck, attending the hearing would be a worthwhile homeschool civics lesson for the kids….


6 Responses to GOAC Invites Testimony on Tri-Valley’s Blown Laptops-for-Homeschoolers Scheme

  1. Donald Pay

    Every district should do everything it can to get students in the door. I think this idea could have been a pretty neat marketing effort if it had been done differently. It shouldn’t have been just a one day deal. It should have required at least a month of attendance. Still, the way it was done was a bit much. It wasn’t illegal, though.

    Every district tries to make sure every student that isn’t in an ICU, is at school on count day. I’m not sure if they go to the lengths of having a free-pizza day and swing dancing lessons, but, why not?

  2. Mr. Lansing

    I’ve learned much from watching the VN documentary. Secrets are always revealed, eventually.
    As a kid in Jr. High (middle school) it was always hectic the first week to ten days when all the drop-outs were back in school. Of course, I talked to them about why they wanted to come back since most had part-time jobs. A few confided that they weren’t going to stay and weren’t supposed to talk about it but their parents somehow bribed them or talked them into coming back for a short time. It never made sense ’til this scandal came to light. How much or what promises were given to parents may not be known but someone may now come forward with the dirt. Apparently it’s been going on to some degree for 50 years. But, if there’s one thing South Dakota citizens are really good at it’s sweeping facts under the rug. This must change as must the majority in Pierre!!

  3. Interesting that HSLDA sounds the immunization alarm. Would Lodmel have required those homeschoolers to get their shots for their one day at Tri-Valley? The district’s letter to parents mentioned no such requirement.

    Hmm… and how many homeschool families are anti-vaxers?

  4. Most homeschoolers are anti-vaxers. Not all, but most.

    If young Ms. Peters chooses to let Mr. Nelson off his leash on this issue, I expect to see him sloth like the swamp thing through this issue and totally hulk out on this Mr. Lodmel fellow, who I am sure regrets his poor judgement and will never live it down, ever, in South Dakota. People will joke about Tri-Valley for years and years.

  5. Dont steal the government hates competition. The state just allowed tax credits to insurance companies to free up monies for low income families children to attend private schools – And, this past year SD just completed a 20 (?) year lease/leaseback scheme started by Janklow – soo the state helped investment companies duck out of paying MILLIONS in taxes ( for a piece of the pie )

    http://rapidcityjournal.com/news/local/janklow-s-sale-leaseback-deal-how-it-worked/article_06ad2dd4-80f3-5408-8412-105823eb0976.html

  6. Rick Kriebel

    My previous link is just part 2 of 4 parts, here is a quote from part 1.

    Later refinancings of the deal netted another $17 million, Janklow later reported, raising the state’s total take to $29 million.

    For the past 30 years, ending in December, the state quietly used the biannual income from the annuity to lease the buildings while continuing to use and maintain them. Only now, with the last transactions complete, is ownership of the buildings reverting to state government.

    If it all sounds confusing, that’s because it was, and still is. At the time, Janklow openly described the deal as selling buildings without really selling them. He variously referred to the deal as “trying to invent money” by “doing alchemy” through a “shell transaction.”

    “All of this is fiction,” Janklow was quoted as saying in 1986. “We literally made money out of nothing.”

    But keep on the lookout for rogue superintendents cheating the state out of a few thousand bucks, lol