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Conflicts-disclosure law affects most of S.D. Board of Education

PIERRE -- Four members on the state Board of Education filed waiver requests regarding South Dakota's new conflicts of interest law. They are Sue Aguilar, of Sioux Falls, Kelly Duncan, of Aberdeen, Glenna Fouberg, of Aberdeen and Don Kirkegaard, ...

PIERRE - Four members on the state Board of Education filed waiver requests regarding South Dakota's new conflicts of interest law.

They are Sue Aguilar, of Sioux Falls, Kelly Duncan, of Aberdeen, Glenna Fouberg, of Aberdeen and Don Kirkegaard, of Sturgis.

A fifth member, Julie Mathiesen, of Sturgis, resigned this month because, she said in her letter to the governor, complying with the law would have been too complex.

She is head of the Technology In Education organization that works with school districts throughout South Dakota.

A sixth member, Stacy Phelps, of Rapid City, resigned last year. Phelps and two other people were indicted this year on state criminal charges regarding the GEAR UP program.

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GEAR UP is a federally funded program administered through the state Department of Education and the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative at Platte.

It is intended to help Native American students and their families know what is needed for further education after high school graduation.

A state audit found financial problems.

The GEAR UP scandal triggered South Dakota's new conflicts law for members of state boards and commissions.

The conflicts law also covers people in leadership positions in K-12 education organizations.

The state Board of Regents and Black Hills State University now administer GEAR UP under a contract with the state Department of Education.

The state Board of Education has nine members. A majority have situations they felt should be disclosed.

Sue Aguilar requested a waiver "out of an abundance of caution" because her husband serves on the board for Lutheran Social Services. The organization receives grant funding for literacy work from the state Department of Labor and Regulation.

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Aguilar said she has nothing to do with those contracts and their household doesn't benefit from them.

Kelly Duncan currently is dean of education for Northern State University.

She had been a long-time consultant on education projects in South Dakota and received payments from state government and from other organizations including Mid-Central.

In her waiver request Duncan said her university work could fall within the subject matter of the state board. She said in her waiver request she would disclose a potential conflict of interest and abstain from the vote.

Glenna Fouberg said she sometimes fills in at Northern State University to monitor administration of Praxis tests used for teacher certification.

A retired teacher, Fouberg said she doesn't have a formal contract and might be paid $40 to $100 per month when she temporarily works.

"I do things like making sure the test-takers get their computers set up and that the area is secure. I do not score the tests," she wrote in her waiver request.

Fouberg further explained:

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"This is not a conflict with my role as a Board of Education member, and it is in the public interest for NSU to have someone to do this so these test-takers can get their Praxis test done.

"Because it is a contract with the State (NSU) which is potentially within the subject matter of the Board of Education, I am seeking a waiver for this work going forward."

Don Kirkegaard requested waivers for two reasons in his role as Meade school district superintendent.

He highlighted five major amounts of funding the district receives through the state Department of Education.

"Neither Meade School District nor myself are receiving any special benefit in regard to these funds because all school districts apply for the same," Kirkegaard wrote.

"The purpose of all these funds is to provide services to students, so they are obviously in the public interest. The South Dakota Board of Education has no oversight of this funding," he continued.

Kirkegaard also disclosed his employment contract as superintendent.

"The (state) Board of Education has no oversight of funds received by the district from the (state) Department of Education," he wrote.

"The Meade School District Board of Education determines whether to renew my contract and terms of my contract, in the public interest of the students and citizens of the district."

The new conflicts-disclosure affects 22 state boards and commissions.

Bobbi Rank, the lawyer for the state Department of Education, provided a 10-page memorandum about the new law to the state Board of Education members.

The memo included this summary of the new law:

"The Disclosure Laws prohibit a Board Member from contracting with the State, or from deriving a direct benefit from a contract or transaction with the State, if the contract or transaction is within the jurisdiction or relates to the subject matter of the Member's Board.

"The Disclosure Laws also prohibit a Board Member from contracting with, or deriving a direct benefit from, a contract with a political subdivision of the State if the political subdivision administers or executes similar subject matter programs as the Member's Board."

Waivers can be granted if the board decides the "transaction and terms of the contract are fair and reasonable and not contrary to the public interest."

The waiver requests are public documents.

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