On Sept. 12, 2017, the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee’s leaders — Sen. Deb Peters, R-Hartford, and Rep. Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton — sent a letter to the accounting firm that previously conducted annual audits of Mid Central Educational Cooperative at Platte.
The Peters-Hunhoff letter asked:
“In your response to Committee questions dated August 17, 2017 you indicated that the gym constructed at Mr. Westerhuis’ home was discussed with management of the Mid Central Educational Cooperative. Can you provide more details on what was discussed and the answers that you received from management? “
The letter went to Randy Schoenfish of Parkston. He is the father of state Rep. Kyle Schoenfish, R-Scotland, who was part of a team of accountants who conducted the past audits of Mid Central.
The Sept. 22 reply, unsigned, from Schoenfish and Co. said the firm’s typical practice is to drive past the key financial person’s residence or farm. The reply said Scott Westerhuis indicated his mother was helping him financially. You can read the full reply here.
Scott Westerhuis was business manager at Mid Central. He allegedly killed his wife, Nicole, and their four children, then lit their house afire and killed himself. The slayings occurred in the early hours of Sept. 17, 2015.
State Education Secretary Melody Schopp had called Mid Central director Dan Guericke on Sept. 16, 2015, to notify him the South Dakota Department of Education would be terminating its contract.
Mid Central managed the federal GEAR UP program as a contractor for the state department. Nicole Westerhuis was an assistant business manager at Mid Central.
While their house burned to the ground, a two-story metal building next door didn’t catch fire. It contained many pieces of physical training equipment. A swimming pool that was under construction didn’t burn either.
The legislators’ question was about the metal building.
GEAR UP was intended to help middle school and high school students from lower-income households be aware of educational opportunities available after high school graduation. Mid Central primarily focused on schools with high populations of American indians.
Guericke, GEAR UP manager Stacy Phelps and Stephanie Hubers now face state criminal charges for various roles involving Mid Central.
Black Hills State University eventually was chosen to replace Mid Central as GEAR UP manager. Mid Central closed June 30.
The legislative committee meets Oct. 5-6 in Sioux Falls. GEAR UP is one of the agenda items.