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Co-op to replace Mid-Central will remain in Platte

Core Educational Cooperative President Holly Mosterd, of Burke, directs the group's meeting Thursday afternoon at Pizza Ranch in Platte. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)

PLATTE — With the second reading and approval of its bylaws, the Core Educational Cooperative became an official entity Thursday.

Core, which plans to run in place of the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative — set to dissolve in June — will focus on providing special education services to students enrolled in its 12-member school districts.

Districts involved in Core are Armour, Burke, Colome, Corsica-Stickney, Gregory, Kimball, Mount Vernon, Plankinton, Platte-Geddes, Wessington Springs, White Lake and Wolsey-Wessington. The schools are currently 12 of Mid-Central's 13 member schools. The Ethan School District is a Mid-Central member, but is not part of Core.

"We're all taking a huge leap of faith here ... so I think everyone is committed," Armour Superintendent Andrea Powell said. "We're going to make this work."

Also at Thursday's meeting, Core members decided the city of Platte will be home of the newly-formed cooperative. The building that will house the cooperative's operations will be determined at a later meeting.

And, though the co-op will be located in the same town as Mid-Central, board members said they don't plan to be a continuation of Mid-Central.

In April, the Mid-Central member schools voted to dissolve the cooperative following scandal and tragedy in 2015 that Mid-Central board members said were insurmountable.

In September 2015, Scott Westerhuis, a Mid-Central employee, is believed to have shot and killed his family before setting the family home ablaze and killing himself. The alleged murder-suicide occurred hours after Mid-Central learned the state was pulling a multi-million GEAR UP grant following audits that showed misuse of the grant money. Scott's wife, Nicole, was also a Mid-Central employee.

Additionally, two Mid-Central employees are facing felony charges for their alleged roles in helping cover up the Westerhuis' theft of funds.

Following the vote to dissolve Mid-Central, participating school districts were given the option to either join other educational cooperatives or form another.

"I want all the separation we can get from Mid-Central," Burke Superintendent Erik Person said.

The school districts' superintendents are not voting members of the Core Governing Board, instead with each electing a separate member to serve as representatives. But the governing board is adamant that it values the wisdom the superintendents offer.

Because of this, the group has established a Superintendent Advisory Board, which meets prior to each monthly meeting of the governing board to oversee operations and offer guidance as necessary.

"Our superintendents have a lot of input, and a lot of good input," Chad Clites, Corsica-Stickney board member said. "I'm new and I'm learning, but you guys have so much experience and knowledge as superintendents that can help us as we build this."

After approving job descriptions for the co-op's director and business manager, and authorizing President Holly Mosterd to advertise for the positions as soon as possible, the board formed a hiring committee to help choose from the pool of applicants.

Moving forward, a public hearing date to review Core's proposed budget for fiscal years 2017 and 2018 will be held Dec. 8 during the co-op's regularly scheduled board meeting.