- Associated Press - Sunday, November 27, 2016

PLATTE, S.D. (AP) - The Core Educational Cooperative has been set up to replace an older cooperative and provide special education services to students enrolled in a dozen South Dakota school districts.

Member schools voted in April to dissolve the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative following scandal and tragedy that board members said was insurmountable, the Daily Republic (https://bit.ly/2gfmgnb ) reported.

Authorities said Mid-Central Educational Cooperative employee Scott Westerhuis killed himself and five family members in September 2015 after embezzling more than $1 million from the Gear Up program, which provided higher-education assistance to low-income students. Two Mid-Central employees accused of helping cover up the theft face felony charges.

“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.”

After the vote to dissolve the old cooperative, participating school districts had the option to either join other 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 part of a Superintendent Advisory Board, which meets before each monthly meeting of the governing board to oversee operations and offer advice when necessary. The governing board of the new cooperative is made up of members elected by superintendents to serve as representatives.

“Our superintendents have a lot of input, and a lot of good input,” Corsica-Stickney board member Chad Clites 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.”

Members decided earlier this month that the newly formed cooperative will be located in Platte. They’ll choose a specific building later. A public hearing to review the new cooperative’s proposed budget for fiscal years 2017 and 2018 is set for Dec. 8.

Districts involved in the new cooperative are Armour, Burke, Colome, Corsica-Stickney, Gregory, Kimball, Mount Vernon, Plankinton, Platte-Geddes, Wessington Springs, White Lake and Wolsey-Wessington. The last member school, Ethan School District, was a Mid-Central member but not part of the new cooperative.

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This story has been corrected to reflect that cooperative members decided on Nov. 17 that the newly formed cooperative will be in Platte.


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