Capitol Notebook: Why bother now with new mission statement for Board of Education?
Some people on the South Dakota Board of Education want to write a new mission statement.
The reason is obvious.
They want to show they weren’t responsible for the stealing, followed by the lying and finally the killings connected to the Gear Up program.
No matter that the man who was running Gear Up was on the state Board of Education too.
He stepped aside after the six bodies were found in the ruins of the house fire at Platte last September. They were first shot to death.
He is one of two people now facing felony charges in state court for trying to cover up the misdealing. A third person is accused of being part of the thefts.
The question is whether the board even needs a mission statement.
South Dakota law assigns the responsibility for setting public education policy, rules and standards to the state board.
The responsibility for decisions on money, goods, commodities and services is assigned to the secretary of education.
The governor chooses the secretary of education and chooses the board members.
Why there haven’t been more criminal charges is a mystery. Why more people haven’t been asked to step down is a mystery.
It seems doubtful we ever will get the full story.
What we know is the aftermath: The transfer of Gear Up’s management to the state Board of Regents and Black Hills State University.
That’s really where Gear Up belongs.
The U.S. Department of Education sends several millions of dollars to South Dakota every year to be used for informing high school students and their families what it takes to pursue higher education after graduation.
That’s why it’s called Gear Up.
The program fits the regents’ goal of recruiting more Native American students to state universities.
As for the desire by some on the state Board of Education for a different mission statement, they could simply reprint the two laws about the board and about the secretary.
There are other state boards that make funding decisions and contract decisions within their areas.
But the state Board of Education doesn’t.
The state Board of Education doesn’t even get a report at its meetings about those decisions made by the secretary.
Should that change? Should there be more oversight of the secretary by the board? Does the board even want more oversight?
Ultimately that is a decision for the Legislature.
The Legislature has adopted some self-dealing and conflict of interest laws in the wake of the Gear Up fiasco and the separate EB-5 scandal that happened at roughly the same time.
The Legislature hasn’t changed the responsibility of the education secretary, who remains in charge of money, goods, commodities and services, and answers solely to the governor.
Meanwhile some members of the state Board of Education are in a posture of don’t blame us.
They are sort of right.
Some of them had vague suspicions. One even worked at Mid Central Education Cooperative where the Gear Up money went.
But they didn’t have responsibility.
Nothing happened, until some anonymous heroes went to the state auditor general.
Meanwhile people want answers.
- South Dakota
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