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Core Coop Members Hiring Mid-Central Staff, Negotiating with Selves to Buy Own Property

The mortally scandalized Mid-Central Educational Cooperative will cease to exist next month. In its place, twelve of its thirteen member schools have formed the Core Educational Cooperative to provide special education services.

When the Mid-Central schools created Core, Burke superintendent Erik Person said, “I want all the separation we can get from Mid-Central.” But in South Dakota, separation is hard to get.

Core hired Mid-Central special educator Valerie Johnson as its interim director.

Core has offered Mid-Central technology coordinator Dave Lehr a contract to provide Core’s tech support on an hourly basis.

Core has offered a contract to Mid-Central’s acting business manager Catrina Brown to become Core’s business manager after Mid-Central folds. Brown is one of the Mid-Central staffers who got extra pay from Mid-Central’s embezzling business manager Scott Westerhuis for no apparent extra work. In its response to the damning Auditor General’s report, Mid-Central refers to such payments to one unnamed staffer as “hush money.”

Core is negotiating to buy Mid-Central’s office building in Platte and thirteen of Mid-Central’s vehicles. Remember that these negotiations consist of representatives of twelve school boards dickering with other representatives of those same twelve school boards (sometimes the same board members—see the six conflict of interest waivers Mid-Central approved for board members in January) plus Ethan, the only Mid-Central member that hasn’t joined Core. At the May 11 Mid-Central meeting, Ethan board president Tim Neugebauer did spike a 20%-off-book discount proposed by Burke and Corsica-Stickney and secured a vote to ask Core for full book value on those thirteen cars.

Mid-Central is offering its building for sale at the appraised value of $350K. According to Core’s May 16 minutes, Valerie Johnson and Core’s superintendents, the same superintendents who sit in on Mid-Central meetings, countered with an offer of $290K. Funny: Mid-Central’s member schools already paid for that building once. Now twelve of them plan to pay for it again.

Given that the Auditor General says $1.4 million is still missing from Mid-Central’s taxpayer-filled and Westerhuis-drained coffers, it’s surprising that the state Department of Education and Uncle Sam are allowing Mid-Central to liquidate any assets. Given the overlap of staff and boards, it’s surprising that Core, which for all practical purposes is Mid-Central minus one, is transferring any money to acquire assets that its members have already paid for.

10 Comments

  1. Vance Feyereisen 2017-05-29

    Core Coop Members Hiring Mid-Central Staff, Negotiating with Selves to Buy Own Property.

    Cory, would you give me permission to copy this complete article as a “Letter to the Editor” here in Gregory.

  2. jerry 2017-05-29

    What does Jackboot Jackley say about all of this corruption? If it walks like a duck, well you get the idea. This kind of deal looks like the ones trump and his sidekick son in law pulled laundering money for the russians.

  3. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-05-29

    Vance, you may share my work freely, as long as you cite the article properly. If you send it as a letter to the editor verbatim, they will want to contact me to verify that I wrote it.

  4. Roger Elgersma 2017-05-30

    They sure are making your job easy Cory. This idea that there are only a small handful of people in a state of 800,000 to do government work so we keep hiring the same ones, is why we got this problem in the first place. Absolutely everyone in the new group should be new. Lack of experience is far better than experience in corruption. If they had no finite results before, it is not only lack of honest people there, but they have absolutely no experience with success. The Native kids deserve someone helping them that has success.

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-05-30

    Roger, that problem is exacerbated by the decision to keep the co-op office in Platte. The white-collar workforce there isn’t very big. Stay there, and you’re bound to end up hiring the same people. Has anyone heard mention from Core why they chose to remain in Platte? Is Platte the most central location to all member schools?

  6. Anne Beal 2017-05-30

    The member schools are all run by elected school boards. The voters have the right to elect anybody they want to those boards.
    The boards, in turn, have the right to contract their special ed services as they please.
    There’s plenty of corruption and or incompetence to go around, it seems. It’s one thing for state prosecutors to tackle corruption.
    But stupidity is not a crime. It has to be voted out of office.

  7. Porter Lansing 2017-05-30

    Exactly, Mr. Heidelberger … What’s up with Platte and why does anything statewide deserve to be hidden away so far from any source of oversite? It’s as if some group has something to hide and Platte is the easiest entrance to sweep future lawlessness under the Republican rug of deception.

  8. Joe K 2017-05-31

    Cory, in response to your 16:15 comment – yes, Platte is the most central place to hold meetings. Corsica generously offered a room to meet at no cost until all of the details of the transition is worked out. When Core was formed, it was strongly suggested to vote in new and different board members for Core. Keep in mind, the board members in place are voted in from the member schools. Here in Burke, we changed our representative to avoid any conflicts, who is now the President of the Core board. What other member districts chose to do for representation is out of the new co-ops hands. Some districts chose to keep the same representative. Playing devil’s advocate, it is tough to get someone to step up and attend another meeting that is scheduled for the afternoon during the week on the first or second Thursday of the month.

    I wish all districts would have selected a new face to represent their districts at Core Co-Op, but in the end you have to work with what you have.

  9. Jenny 2017-05-31

    It just doesn’t make sense, why can’t they hire new faces?

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-06-01

    I agree with Jenny that it would be helpful to hire new people for all salaried positions. Schools do it: they let teachers and administrators go, advertise, and recruit new people from Timbuktu (or Brookings, or Luverne, or Sioux City…).

    But as Joe notes, board representation comes from the member school boards. You can’t hire that out. Core board members have to be elected officials from each district.

    Now that is a bind. Getting two people from each board, one for Mid-Central, one for Core during this overlap period may be really difficult… but given the negotiations, one could argue it’s just the way things should have been. The boards are still going to overlap: Joe and Bob from one school board, one serving on MCEC, the other on Core, are still going to see each other and talk and probably make the boundaries between the two entities somewhat porous… but you know, that’s just a challenge we have to take up and be professional about.

    It sounds harsh, but things went so wrong at Mid-Central that I could see a strong argument for having said at the inception of Core, “Nobody who touched anything in Mid-Central participates in building Core. Different reps, different staff, no overlap.” Of course, that would also have meant giving up lots of institutional knowledge about how the co-op works… but again, given how badly things went, maybe building entirely from scratch wouldn’t have been all bad.

    This is all academic, of course.

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