South Dakota’s Secretary of Education Melody Schopp was in the hot seat before the Government Operations and Audit Committee yesterday over the GEAR UP grant.
Schopp defended her department’s oversight of the grant and Mid Central Educational Cooperative.

However, lawmakers aren’t satisfied that all of their questions were answered.

Secretary of Education Melody Schopp seems to have raised more questions than she answered among these committee members, because they want her to come back to their next meeting.  

The lawmakers want to question her about that $4 million Microsoft software match approved by the feds.

The most recent state audit report on the matter found the software was never used in the GEAR UP program. However, Mid Central, along with the Department of Education, got it approved by the feds as a match for $4 million in grant money.  

But now the state is worried the feds may ask for the money back and so it’s suing the 14 school districts that made up Mid Central for the money.
“$4 million on the overvaluation of the Microsoft stuff. If there’s not money missing why are schools in my district being sued for missing money? Senator Stace Nelson asked.

“It’s more like an insurance should the U.S. department of Education determine at a later date that they’re not accepting the numbers for the Microsoft match. We are holding the school districts responsible if that should happen,” Schopp said.

Members of GOAC want to further question Schopp about whether or not she and DOE Finance Director Tamara Darnall knowingly deceived the committee back in August of 2015 when the Department of Education claimed the value of the software program and then worked with former Mid Central Director Dan Guericke to get the feds to approve it.

GOAC is also asking Darnall to answer questions at its next meeting.

It will send an invitation to Brinda Kuhn to testify. She’s the GEAR UP consultant and evaluator who was paid well over $1 million by Mid Central. She not only wrote the state’s application for the grant and got paid to work in the programs with students; she also got paid for evaluating the program.

While Kuhn performed multiple evaluations, Schopp says the DOE did try to hire someone else.

“So Pergroup was the organization the second year went into the evaluation and then they backed out at the last minute and so the evaluation was finished up be Brinda Kuhn,” Schopp said.

Pergroup, by the way is the company to which the U.S. Inspector General said Keith Moore illegally tried to steer a contract while he was Head of the Bureau of Indian Education. Moore left the agency during the investigation, which also involved Rick Melmer, former South Dakota Secretary of Education. 

Just this week, Attorney General Marty Jackley said he’s still investigating Melmer and Moore for their roles in the GEAR UP grant and the lucrative contracts they received.

But while GOAC is inviting Kuhn to testify, she doesn’t have to show up.

KELOLAND Investigates repeatedly reached out to Kuhn, even visiting her store in Rapid City, Booty & Loot.  An employee reached her on the phone for us, but she hung up.

GOAC will also invite lawmaker and auditor Kyle Schoenfish to its next meeting to answer questions.  His father Randy Schoenfish has testified in the criminal case that there were “red flags” in Mid Central’s audits for eight years, and he brought those findings to Dan Guericke and Stephanie Hubers, who are now charged in the GEAR UP cases, as well as the Westerhuises.  

An independent group of citizens has prepared a list of ten questions it submitted to the South Dakota Auditor General for Kyle Schoenfish to answer.  Senator Stace Nelson says this will give GOAC the opportunity to ask Kyle Schoenfish these questions.  

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
GOAC is asking lawmaker Kyle Schoenfish, not his father Randy to testify before GOAC.