Mid-Central Auctioning 13 Cars; GEAR UP Rebuilding Trust at BHSU

Get your piece of South Dakota corruption history! At their meeting Thursday, Mid-Central Educational Cooperative board members voted to auction off 13 vehicles from their 32-vehicle fleet. (MCEC’s inventory showed 37 vehicles; five were surplused in January.) Submit your bid by July 12.

Mid-Central members also heard from financial advisor Ed Young, who told member schools to review their retirement plans:

“I can guarantee you who the IRS holds responsible. They’re going to hold the school responsible, and you and your business manager are ultimately going to be on the hook,” said Ed Young, of Plan Services Investments. “Don’t take that liability.”

Young delivered his message at a Mid-Central Educational Cooperative board meeting on Thursday in Platte. Young said every school’s superintendent or business manager must sign of on a 403(b) plan, which benefits the retirement of certain public school employees.

While he said the schools’ chances of being audited by the IRS were “probably slim” but urged them to consider switching their plan’s provider and not to risk it [Jake Shama, “Mid-Central Members Urged to Update School Retirement Plans,” Mitchell Daily Republic, 2016.06.16].

Shama doesn’t provide any further specifics about what deficiencies in the member schools’ retirement plans might draw IRS attention. However, if IRS audits of schools associated with a deadly multi-million-dollar scandal are “probably slim,” let’s hope that’s only because other federal agencies are coming through the books to find where every penny of the mishandled GEAR UP funds went.

Meanwhile, the first post-scandal, post-Phelps/Westerhuis GEAR UP summer program is underway at Black Hills State University. SDPB Dakota Midday aired a carefully scripted puff interview Tuesday with new project manager Dr. Peg Diekhoff that said nothing about the scandal until this glancing mention at the very end:

Lori Walsh:Conversations about GEAR UP in South Dakota in the past have been political. What do you want people to know about South Dakota GEAR UP…?

Diekoff: …GEAR UP is centered first and foremost on our kids. That’s the whole reason that we have the grant. and that’s where our efforts need to be directed. Our focus is really to work with kids and to work with families, and that’s where we want the focus to be. We are fortunate enough to serve such a high number of kids with great potential and families who want their children to succeed, and our job needs to be on those students and those families, that’s where our focus needs to be, and that’s where it’s going to be. We look forward to creating trust with people, families, and communities and to taking this program and helping it reach its potential [transcription mine; “Dr. Diekhoff on GEAR UP,” SDPB Dakota Midday, 2016.06.14].

Focus on kids, create trust—that’s how GEAR UP should have run in the first place. It could have run this way if Rick Melmer hadn’t farmed this multi-million-dollar grant out to his homefolks back in tiny Platte, far from scrutiny in Pierre, and if members of the Daugaard/Schopp Department of Education had spoken up about fiscal misconduct at Mid-Central when they saw the first signs of trouble six years ago.

7 Responses to Mid-Central Auctioning 13 Cars; GEAR UP Rebuilding Trust at BHSU

  1. chuck standen

    I am teaching the technology class at GearUp and I can attest to the quality of all the staff (except for me!) and to the focus and vision of the program. It is a shame that the greed of some and the indifference of others almost destroyed this endeavor.

  2. Crystal NP

    I fully have trust and have confidence that Ms. D and her crew will get the job done and done properly. Kids always come first with her.

  3. SD GEAR UP is far more than a summer program. Too many press reports have focused on summer to the neglect of the school year activities that are supposed to be the bulk of South Dakota’s GEAR UP activities under the grant.

    Part of the reason for this lies with SD GEAR UP’s past leaders, but they’re no longer in control and we should be seeing a picture more in line with the grant’s design that, even after the Board of Regents reduced the scope of activities, spends $5 million a year in federal cash and state-based matching funds annually.

  4. Chuck Standen is on staff? My trust in the new GEAR UP management just went up 25%. :-)

    Michael, while I recognize that Chuck, Dr. Deikoff, and the rest of the GEAR UP crew should be focused on doing good for the kids, and while I’m not particularly fond of puff interviews, I’d recommend GEAR UP enlist SDPB and the rest of the press to put out more positive press about the program itself, especially the year-round counseling and academic enrichment that has gone underreported, so they can assure South Dakota that the kids and families being served are indeed getting big bang for the taxpayer dollars. They should draw as much attention as they can to the program for the remaining two grant years to show that good administration and complete openness can rescue a good program from corruption.

  5. Jason Sebern

    Good luck Chuck! I hope you and your colleagues can bring hope to our Native American children! They deserve the best our professional educators have to offer.

  6. If Mid-Central cares so much about kids why haven’t they given any scholarships to Native American students?

  7. Mark:

    Mid_Central wasn’t the grantee for SD GEAR UP. The State of South Dakota, specifically the state’s Department of Education, was the grantee. Both in 2005 and in 2011, the SD DOE requested and received a federal waiver from the requirement to provide scholarships under GEAR UP.

    Again, Mid-Central was just the entity contracted by the SD DOE to manage the SD GEAR UP program.