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October 05, 2015 05:02 PM

Mitchell Superintendent Defends 'Second Job'

Mitchell, SD

Our KELOLAND News investigation revealed some of the problems surrounding the multimillion dollar GEAR UP grant that caused the state to end its partnership with Mid Central. But new questions have also surfaced surrounding other grants the educational cooperative administered. 

One of them was with Mitchell School Superintendent Joe Graves, who directed a million dollar Teaching American History grant.  Graves is now defending his moonlighting to the district. 

"I'm very proud of the grant. I'm very proud of what it accomplished with our teachers throughout the state," Graves said.

Graves’s salary of nearly $160,000 to administer the $1 million grant, along with some $20,000 in covered travel expenses, was recently highlighted by a political blogger. 

That prompted Graves to send out an email to the entire staff in the Mitchell school district, telling everyone who works for him that he didn't do anything wrong. 

"I always looked at it that I administered the grant for about $30,000 a year.  Not bad.  No, it's good pay. I didn't pursue it for the money.  I pursued it because I was interested in the area, but I was also happy with the dollars," Graves said.

Graves said the Teaching American History grant helped more than 50 teachers from around the state get master's degrees through the University of South Dakota or Dakota Wesleyan.  Graves also led the teachers on five historical field trips to various locations around the country. 

"That was only during the summer that we did those trips, so it really just depended.  There were some weeks there was basically very little work and there were other weeks were I would spend 16 to 18 hour days when we were on the trips," Graves said.

In addition to taking vacation time for those trips, Graves said he did his grant work on weekends and outside of the school day.  But according to his Mitchell School Superintendent contract, Graves was breaking agreement number six.

"He will, during the entire time of his contract, devote the entire time, attention, skill and learning to the faithful performance to his duties as superintendent of the school district?" Angela Kennecke reads from Paragraph 6 of Grave's contract with the Mitchell School District.

"Right, and that contract as in existence from the very beginning; item number 6.  So I sat down with the board member who presented that to me at the time and said, 'You know, the language here is a little odd--basically in that--could you sleep?  Well no--you can't because it's your entire time,'" Graves said.

Graves says he informed school board members of his second job and no one had a problem with it, so no formal action was taken by the school board to allow it.

"It was pretty widely known, so I didn't see--I don't see now a conflict of interest," Graves said.

KELOLAND News spoke with a Mitchell school board member on the board at the time Graves did the work.  He said while he was aware of it, he didn't know the extent of it or any details about it. 

And our investigation has uncovered that Graves isn't the only South Dakota school superintendent on the payroll at Mid Central.

Terry Eckstaine took early retirement from Tri-Valley school district and is now Ethan's superintendent.   According to IRS returns from American Indian Institute for Innovation, a non-profit formed by Scott Westerhuis, Eckstaine was being paid $78,000 a year as a superintendent with AIII.  

When I called Eckstaine to ask him about it, he referred me to Mid Central for any questions.  Mid Central's attorney tells us that Eckstaine's salary as Ethan's superintendent was being paid for by AIII.

  • Education Funding
  • Mitchell, SD
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