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December 09, 2015 06:00 PM

Superintendent Defends GEAR UP Consulting Work

Platte, SD

If his name sounds familiar, it's because Wessington Springs Superintendent Lance Witte had a very public battle with alcohol. 

Witte was sentenced to 8 days in jail back in 2011 for driving a school vehicle while drunk.  It was Witte's 5th DUI, spanning back to 1990. Now Lance Witte's name is tied to the GEAR UP grant.  

Lance Witte is Wessington Springs Superintendent of Schools.  He's also the superintendent of Lower Brule School for the American Indian Institute for Innovation. That's the organization started by Stacy Phelps and Scott Westerhuis that took millions in GEAR UP money. 

Witte also worked for a consulting firm on GEAR UP and he has his own consulting business that took GEAR UP money. Witte's school district is represented by Mid Central. At their latest meeting in Platte, KELOLAND News asked him if doing work for GEAR UP was a conflict of interest.

"I don't really see the conflict of interest.  The schools I worked with here are native schools that asked for strategic planning and I facilitated and conducted the work. To my knowledge they were satisfied with the work," Witte said.

The American Indian Institute for Innovation, or AIII, which got millions over the years in GEAR UP money, has a contract to manage the Lower Brule School where Lance Witte is also superintendent. 

"We're fulfilling our contract. It's year two of a two year contract. Enrollment is up 25 percent from two years ago and test scores are up in both reading and math. To my knowledge everything is going well," Witte said.

Witte also worked for The Cambrian Group, which Mid Central paid $102,000 for a GEAR UP stipend and GEAR UP travel between 2012 and 2014. 

Lance Witte: "Cambrian is located in Alabama and they received a contract for strategic planning services. I work with them and sometimes I perform work on their behalf. But they have several associates not just me."
Angela Kennecke: "And what kinds of things do you do?"
Witte: "We go in and conduct strategic plans for schools. I go in and I've conducted strategic plans for other schools in South Dakota, as well as internationally and Texas and other places."

Witte also has his own consulting company, which in the last year Mid Central paid $14,000 for GEAR UP Strategic Planning, Support and Travel.

Angela Kennecke: "And are you able to do all these jobs? You've got the superintendent job--two schools you're superintendent of, is that correct? Wessington Springs and Lower Brule?  Then you're working as a consultant, you're doing all this strategic planning, how do you do all that?" 
Witte: "I just work a lot."

Witte says he's worked it out with the Wessington Springs Board of Education and told us he has frozen his superintendent's salary for several years to do consulting work.

"They seem satisfied with the work I'm doing and we meet and discuss this periodically," Witte said.

Witte also says when it comes to his very public DUIs, he's a recovering alcoholic. 

Witte: "The other issue was obviously a personal issue and I've dealt with that.  I've had over four-and-a-half years of sobriety. I'm proud of that fact. This issue is not related to me in any way, shape or form. I just happen to serve with my board member at the board meetings, but I really don’t have any scrutiny centered around this."
Kennecke: "And the money that you have earned for consulting contracts?"
Witte: "Yeah we have contracts with schools all over the country. Sometimes I do services in those schools, sometimes I don't. That's how business works I guess."

While the GEAR UP grant has been taken away from AIII, the foundation run by Stacy Phelps still has contracts with three reservation schools: Takini, Wounded Knee, and Lower Brule, where Witte is superintendent. Earlier this month Takini's superintendent Steve Swartout resigned. When asked why, he told me he would not comment.

We have been trying to find out why GEAR UP was providing staff and resources to Bureau of Indian Affairs schools that are funded by the federal government, but have been unable to get an answer from the BIA or tribal governments.

  • GEAR UP
  • Investigates
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