KELOLAND News has learned that the South Dakota Department of Education will not renew or issue any new grants or contracts with Mid Central Educational Cooperative.
Currently, the Department of Education has 15 contracts for services with Mid Central and five grants. However, Mid Central will be allowed to continue to run the Dial Virtual School for the state and special education programs for the schools.
The South Dakota Department of Education tells KELOLAND News that it made the decision because it has, “concerns about the administrative capacity of the co-op” It also says the timing at the end of the fiscal year was chosen because school is out and it should cause less disruption for students.
KELOLAND News found that the 12 current contracts Mid Central has with the state total $766,000. The other three could not be found on South Dakota’s Open Government website.
The South Dakota Department of Education allowed Mid Central to continue to run five grant programs after it pulled the GEAR UP Grant.
The state will let Mid Central finish up the work it has on current contracts and grants, which run through as late as September 2016. As KELOLAND News reported, the state having contracts with Mid Central appears to violate a clause in the contract. The 15th item states that within the last three years, Mid Central could not have a federal, state or local transaction terminated for cause or default. The state cited several causes for terminating the GEAR UP grant contract with the educational cooperative.
The South Dakota Department of Education tells KELOLAND News says the 15th paragraph contains standard contract language and it is just there to protect the state agency. The Department of Education says it obviously it knew of its own termination of the GEAR UP grant with Mid Central. The Department of Education says it was operating under the conditions of the risk assessment it conducted.
Back in October, the Department preformed a risk assessment and put special conditions that the co-op would have to follow regarding controls and accounting procedures.
We are not sure what this latest development means for the future of the cooperative and the schools it serves, but we are looking for answers.
Meanwhile Mid Central’s meeting over the matter on Friday in Platte may violate South Dakota’s open meetings laws.
Mid Central board members were called to an emergency meeting at 10 a.m.
According to South Dakota law, public schools must post a notice of a board meeting and the proposed agenda 24 hours in advance.
If the organization has a website, it must also be posted on the website. Mid Central did not post anything about the meeting on its website.
We did find it posted on the door to Mid Central. As you can see the meeting was called for board members to go into executive session, where the public is not allowed, and then take action as appropriate.
That 24-hour rule about posting on its website applies to special meetings like the one Mid Central held, “to the extent that circumstances permit.”
We asked South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley if Mid Central was required to post the meeting on its website and were told that it depends on whether or not it was a special meeting and what is being discussed.
Mid Central Attorney Scott Swier says today’s meeting did not violate the law because it was a special meeting.
The Charles Mix County State’s Attorney would have to take the matter before the Open Meetings Commission to determine if it were a violation. It’s a misdemeanor to break South Dakota’s open meetings law.
The board did not take any action following today’s executive session.
Mid Central has filed a $2 million claim against former business manager Scott Westerhuis’ estate. The educational co-op is worried about having to pay the state or federal government back grant money.
In the claim, the educational cooperative says it believes when state and federal investigations and all audits are complete, the reports will show that Westerhuis misused money from the cooperative.
According to Mid Central meeting minutes it received $158,000 in GEAR UP grant money in January.
The state tells us that was to reimburse the co-op for allowed expenses for grant work done before the state terminated the contract.