Tony Venhuizen said moments ago that state Education Secretary Melody Schopp didn’t fire the employees at the South Dakota GEAR UP office in Rapid City, contrary to what was reported by KOTA TV. “She doesn’t have the authority to do that,” said Venhuizen, who is the governor’s chief of staff and who oversees Schopp’s department for his father-in-law. Venhuizen said it’s possible that some or all of the GEAR UP staff was let go, in the wake of Schopp’s decision last week Wednesday to pull the GEAR UP contract from Mid Central Education Cooperative at Platte. The federal GEAR UP funding flows to the state Education Department, then goes to Mid Central, and Mid Central sends much of it to various non-profits, businesses and consultants, either directly or through several of the non-profits. SD GEAR UP eventually receives some of the money. SD GEAR UP is run by Stacy Phelps, who is also CEO for one of those non-profits, and serves on the state Board of Education. Venhuizen’s point is that Schopp doesn’t have direct control of those non-profits or the GEAR UP office. The SD GEAR UP website no longer is available on the Internet. It was earlier this week.
UPDATE: The KOTA TV story was substantially correct but erred on Schopp’s role. A letter from Schopp about halting the GEAR UP grant to Mid Central was read by GEAR UP director Stacy Phelps to GEAR UP employees on Tuesday. Phelps reportedly told them they were terminated. As for Venhuizen’s statement about Schopp, he was technically correct. GEAR UP now will flow the state Board of Regents in the future.