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Schopp Remarkably Ignorant of Publicly Reported & Relevant Facts About GEAR UP Scandal

Education Secretary Melody Schopp’s newsworthy (one, two, three, four blog posts on Dakota Free Press, coverage by Mercer, Ferguson, Russo, Kennecke… but predictably, not a word from Powers on Schopp, just diversionary and non-analytical flak for the GOP establishmentresponse to legislators’ questions about the GEAR UP/Mid-Central scandal includes some so far underplayed evidence that Secretary Schopp remains more interested in distancing herself from the Mid-Central thieves than in really digging into the corruption and crimes that took place under her watch.

Questions #15 and 16 ask Secretary Schopp when she became aware of the apparent nepotism in GEAR UP grant director Stacy Phelps’s hiring of numerous relatives, including his aunt Alice Phelps. That nepotism has been widely reported, but Secretary Schopp, who should have access to as much information about GEAR UP expenditures as the rest of us and at least as much interest in figuring it all out, can only say she is “generally aware that some Phelps family members were employed” and claims she is not aware that Alice Phelps specifically had such employment. Schopp questions the accuracy of the premise of these two questions, even though she cites the December 2015 Eide Bailly audit that accounts for the direct GEAR UP employment of the Phelps clan to emphasize her preferred talking point that “there was no missing GEAR UP money.”

Question #17 asks when Secretary Schopp became aware of Stacy Phelps’s connection to the web of shell corporations created by Mid-Central scandal kingpin Scott Westerhuis. Secretary Schopp claims ignorance of that corporate web, even though Bob Mercer reported those curious corporate documents on September 22, 2015, just days after the spectacular Westerhuis murder/arson/suicide launched Mid-Central into widespread public awareness. At that moment, a Secretary of Education in crisis mode would surely have had her staff gathering every bit of relevant information they could. That Secretary of Education Schopp would have ignored the publicly documented existence of those suspicious corporations as one avenue to check for the possible disappearance of state or federal funds is simply incredible.

Reporters seeking to get to the bottom of the GEAR UP/Mid-Central scandal have noted the above details. A Secretary of Education committed to getting to the bottom of the scandal would do the same. Secretary Schopp seems less interested in getting to the bottom of GEAR UP and more interested in getting out from under the scandal.


  1. Jake Kammerer 2017-08-26

    Cory, my thinking is this: Your ‘bull-dog’ attention and passion to this GEAR-UP Scandal in our state is going to have a lasting effect in the 2018 elections. You and other reporters like Mercer etc. are so deeply appreciated as the main stream press stands by and awaits the final ‘whitewash’ of the whole mess! Thank You!

  2. Porter Lansing 2017-08-26

    As much as Powers and Jones and the GOP blog unnecessarily insult liberals and gloat about their majority, they deserve to have their collective noses rubbed in it for a while. They’re “ridin’ dirty”.
    Payback’s a bitch …..

  3. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-08-26

    Thanks Jake! Not to be a gloomy gus, but Mercer and the rest of us have been bulldogging GEAR UP since 2015, and the 2016 election passed with almost zero apparent impact from this scandal. Will GEAR UP have more power in our statewide elections for governor and attorney general in 2018?

  4. John 2017-08-26

    Ignorant? Remarkably ignorant? Dear sir, you give Schopp too much credit. Willfully blind is likely a better characterization. Employ ones polarity reversal lens . . . asking oneself what would be the rhino reaction if a democratic education official were in charge. Schopp should’ve been fired long ago; and probably put up on criminal charges related to violating the public trust, violating good faith, negligence and gross negligence in public office. But alas, that justice will not occur in among the trumpster rhinos where personal and professional responsibility are only watch-words for those on disability or earning minimum wage.
    Thank goodness we have the DFP.

  5. Jk 2017-08-26

    Schopp’s actions certainly qualify as gross negligence, willful lawlessness, and a gigantic display of ignorance. Ironically,she is the Secretary of Education! Incredible!

  6. Jana 2017-08-26

    Is nepotism a problem waiting to happen? For expert commentary let’s ask Tony V.

  7. mike from iowa 2017-08-27

    Schopp’s actions certainly qualify as gross negligence, willful lawlessness, and a gigantic display of ignorance.

    In wingnut land, these are considered virtues.

  8. Florence Thompson 2017-08-27

    “Incredible” Melody.
    Spin Doctor par excellance.
    We’ll see if she can spin her way out of this one.

  9. grudznick 2017-08-27

    If they subpoena witnesses they should march much of the Education Department up there, not just the heads of things. It’s not just the generals who need to be held accountable for any perceived wrongs of the lowest level troops. I would ask Mr. H exactly how far down the line this “horrible scandalous corruption”, to quote. Mr. Nelson’s parrot like squawking, reaches, and should Ms. Schopps’ head be the only one to roll or should others? It certainly seems to most like this is a witch hunt for a fall gal and not a real search for solutions. That, again quoting Mr. Nelson “is a fact you cannot deny.” Witchhunt by crazies, jumped upon by libbies to stir the pot for political gains. Good luck to Mr. Sutton on that approach, because otherwise he might have made a decent Governor.

  10. John 2017-08-27

    “There are no bad regiments; only bad colonels.” – Napoleon Bonaparte
    The fish rots from the head. Replacing, even if via trials, the heads is the corrective need.

  11. Donald Pay 2017-08-27

    I wonder if, at its core, this is a structural problem. The structure of these educational co-ops don’t have the checks and balances that apply to school district financial operations, and yet large amounts of local, state and federal money get funneled into these outfits.

    When I was in Rapid City, the Black Hills Coop got tons of money to push technology. Some of it was well-spent, but there was a lot of waste and huge salaries were given out in a way that seemed a bit out-of-whack for educators. I’m not aware of any large-scale corruption, but I do know the head people were very cushy with the state Republican Party. It’s almost as if they got money funneled to them because they were Republicans, while Rapid City district board members were not.

    At any rate, you would think maybe they need to end the Coops, at least in the way they have been operating. Any thoughts?

  12. grudznick 2017-08-27

    Mr. John says “chop off the head and let the guts rot where they may.”

  13. leslie 2017-08-27

    mantra: “head people were very cushy with the state Republican Party

    btw, repub sop is leaving lasting legacy: The number of judicial vacancies grew during the Obama administration, when Senate Republicans refused to confirm many of Obama’s nominees to the seats Trump is now filling. When Obama entered office, there were 54 judicial vacancies. President Trump now has the opportunity to fill over 130.

    other very cushy people: Donald Trump chose Michael Brennan to fill an open seat on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. In doing so, he broke with a 38-year-old Wisconsin tradition.
    For decades, when the 7th Circuit seat meant for a Wisconsin judge opened up, a bipartisan state commission voted on a jointly agreed-upon list of judicial nominees for the president to consider. The Wisconsinites gathered to do the same this year, but weren’t able to decide on a nominee for a seat that has been vacant for eight years, the result of Republican refusal to vote on Obama’s nominee for the seat.

    right now republicans are calling dems obstructionist. the last 8 years of “I hope he fails” didn’t do enough damage. when dems get back into power you republicans will learn the price for the ethical lapse

    cweepy grubz, mantra means waking every morning to KOTA and mouthing “i hate progressive policy”

  14. grudznick 2017-08-27

    When I watch that pretty young Alicia lady I always think “I just hate progressive policy, dammit, and I like that watching her makes me hate it more.”

  15. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-08-28

    Donald, I can understand the logic of schools forming coops to share services that are too expensive and specialized for every school to provide solely in house. That, I think, was the original idea, especially for special education services.

    The lack of accountability is inherent in their governance structure. Each school sends one board member. Coop boards met with almost no public participation or interest. Voters don’t notice what the coops do, at least not in a way that ties to their votes for their own school board members. How do we build in more accountability for a multi-school entity providing shared services?

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