- Associated Press - Thursday, December 3, 2015

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - An educational cooperative that oversaw a federal college-readiness grant under investigation in South Dakota is touting what it calls positive findings from an audit of its involvement in the program.

Mid-Central Educational Cooperative released the examination of its use of GEAR UP funds on Thursday. An audit firm the cooperative hired said that it had accounted for both reimbursements paid to the organization and spending for the program over the roughly two year period reviewed.

Mid-Central board Chairwoman Pamela Haukaas said in a statement that the cooperative is pleased with what she called “positive findings” and said the organization is “committed to doing everything possible to earn and keep the trust of those school districts.”

But Mid-Central did say the audit found a “limited number” of issues with some spending items submitted for reimbursement. Eide Bailly LLP, the firm that conducted the audit, said there were about 140 expenditures totaling more than $90,000 that were potentially “problematic” because of issues such as missing documentation or signatures.

An attorney for Mid-Central referred comment to Eide Bailly, which declined to comment. The company is set to brief the cooperative’s governing board on the inquiry next week.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Education said the agency was reviewing the audit.

Mid-Central commissioned the examination in September after a murder-suicide involving two employees raised questions about the cooperative and the program.

Hours after the state Department of Education informed Mid-Central that it was losing its contract, Mid-Central’s business manager Scott Westerhuis shot his wife and four children and then set the family home near Platte ablaze before shooting himself. His wife Nicole Westerhuis was assistant business manager.

Attorney General Marty Jackley has said there’s an ongoing state-federal financial investigation surrounding GEAR UP.

Eide Bailly said in the report that auditors reviewed thousands of documents including bank records, credit card statements and other information over the course of the examination.

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