South Dakota Education Secretary Melody Schopp is set to retire more than a year before her fellow department heads leave the Capitol, Governor Dennis Daugaard announced Friday.
The news comes after a state watchdog committee found that Schopp brushed off early warnings about the mishandling of federal grant dollars through the Gear Up program.
In 2015, Scott Westerhuis, then business manager at Mid-Central Educational Cooperative, killed his wife and four children before setting their Platte home ablaze and killing himself. Schopp had informed Westerhuis’ boss hours earlier the state was pulling the $4 million Gear Up contract from the cooperative.
Schopp at the time thought one former Department of Education employee was disgruntled after she was laid off and told another the situation was being properly handled.
It was later found that Westerhuis had siphoned money from the cooperative to himself.
Lawmakers frustrated by the department’s failure to detect the scheme sooner have for months urged Schopp’s termination.
In a statement Friday, Daugaard applauded Schopp for her work in the office.
“Melody Schopp cares about kids, and that has motivated her throughout her entire career,” he said. “She has served in a difficult and high-profile job, and I’ve appreciated her leadership, from higher teacher salaries to more work-based opportunities for young people. I wish Melody the very best in the future.”
Schopp took over the role in 2011 immediately after Gov. Dennis Daugaard took office. She had worked with the education department since 2000 and prior to that as a teacher in the Lemmon School District for 23 years.
In a statement, Schopp said she was honored to serve in the Daugaard administration and celebrated a 2016 sales tax increase that boosted teacher pay.
A look into the deaths that prompted an investigation of the state’s Gear Up program and the state’s findings so far.
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