Angela Kennecke reports on one GEAR UP employee’s support of suspicions raised by this blog and other observers about consultants siphoning hundreds of thousands of dollars from the federal education grant without adding value for Indian students:
[Darla] Drew Lerdal says she’s upset with the abrupt way everyone working for GEAR UP was let go, especially after seeing how much members of the GEAR UP advisory board, like Rick Melmer and Keith Moore were being paid.
“I’m angry about it. I’m sad for the kids. I’m sad at the loss of the programs. And when I see that people were getting money and I don’t know how much help they were giving the students. They were supposed to consult with us. Don’t you think they could have stopped some of the activity that was headed our way that lost us our jobs–if they were doing theirs?” Drew Lerdal said.
Drew Lerdal says whatever was going on with the grant money and audits of Mid Central didn’t reflect what she and others were doing running the program.
“It wasn’t a mystery what we were doing and the money we spent wasn’t mysterious. And in fact, this program is seen nationally as the poster child of great programs in GEAR UP,” Drew Lerdal said [Angela Kennecke, “Fired GEAR UP Worker Defends Stacy Phelps,” KELO-TV, 2015.11.24].
Darla Drew Lerdal was GEAR UP’s “Media and Community Relations Coordinator” (spokesperson, right? PR?). She also happens to be a Rapid City alderwoman and respected musician and leader in the arts community. She’s ready to stake her public reputation at defending Stacy Phelps and pointing the finger at others in the GEAR UP scandal:
“I think Stacy Phelps may have made some bad decisions, but I don’t think he did anything wrong. I think he trusted people he shouldn’t have trusted. And those people would have been at Mid Central or on the advisory committee,” Drew Lerdal said [Kennecke, 2015.11.24].
Drew Lerdal seems to have some minor issues with word meaning: making bad decisions means doing something wrong. But Drew Lerdal is saying that we can’t trust the people at Mid-Central or on the GEAR UP advisory committee, whose members were paid $1,000 per month for value that Drew Lerdal apparently didn’t see.
Drew Lerdal has very publicly defended the work of the Rapid City GEAR UP office since early in the scandal’s public eruption. In an interview with Brandon Ecoffey last month, Drew Lerdal indicated she doesn’t trust the state, either, to run GEAR UP for the good of Indian kids:
Drew who is a non-Native person said the state had nit-picked the program since its inception.
“I’m not sure if the state didn’t like that a Native man was handling all that money or if people at the level want to divert those funds but they sure seemed like they were looking for something, anything, but there was nothing to find,” said Drew [Brandon Ecoffey, “GEAR UP Closes: Was Program a Target of the State?” Lakota Country Times, 2015.10.01].
Ecoffey notes that the reasons the state grabbed back the GEAR UP reins seemed all rooted in malpractice at Platte-based Mid-Central Educational Cooperative, not at the GEAR UP office where she worked with Phelps in Rapid City. Drew Lerdal told Ecoffey those problems may have been exacerbated by more Pierre cronyism:
Drew stated that allegations by the state that the program did not fully document its action is partly the result of the state choosing to replace Gear Up’s grant monitor.
“When we first started we had [Brinda] Kuhn overseeing the grant and she was one of the people who taught the federal workshops on how to stay in compliance. The state chose to replace her with the Pierre group for whatever reason and this is where we have ended up [Ecoffey, 2015.10.01].
Drew Lerdal refers here to Mid-Central’s switch to PerGroup in Pierre to formally evaluate GEAR UP in 2014. In December 2013, Mid-Central approved a contract with PerGroup for $49,500, conveniently just below the state’s $50,000 threshold for competitive bidding. GEAR UP project director Keith Moore was friends with PerGroup management and had to leave his position as federal Bureau of Indian Education director in 2012 when he and Brain Drapeaux improperly steered a federal contract to PerGroup. Moore now runs the South Dakota Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Throughout her public statements on her former employer, Drew Lerdal has said her main concern is serving American Indian youth. Her comments about the administrative decisions happening in Platte and Pierre suggest the higher-ups in the program did not share that focus.