Gov. Dennis Daugaard has selected Don Kirkegaard to replace outgoing Secretary of Education Melody Schopp.
While that selection still has to be confirmed by the South Dakota Senate -- with a Republican Majority, that confirmation is almost a given.
However, Kirkegaard has long-standing ties to people directly involved in the GEAR UP Scandal.
KELOLAND Investigates has uncovered apparent conflicts of interest involving Daugaard's new appointee go back for years.
Kirkegaard's longtime role on the South Dakota Board of Education is one of the reason's he's been appointed the new Secretary of Education for the State. However, his ties to others involved in the GEAR UP grant run deep.
Kirkegaard was listed on Dakota Education Consulting's website through 2016.
Kirkegaard's name was with Former Secretary of Education Rick Melmer. You'll remember Melmer earned a six figure salary doing consulting work on the GEAR UP program and didn't fill out time sheets for his work on the grant.
Kirkegaard downplays his role in that consulting business.
“I never was a partner with them. I did help on 3-4 different job searches when it was western South Dakota. They did some things and asked if I would help facilitate through them and did, but haven't done that for 3-4 years and only did it a couple of times,” Kirkegaard said.
Kirkegaard's name was still on the site on January 23, 2016. Dakota Education Consulting also listed Kirkegaard's former school, Britton-Hecla, as a client for its superintendent search when he left in 2011. Kirkegaard tells KELOLAND News that wasn't his decision.
"So the Britton school Board chose to use Dakota Educational Consulting to find a replacement for me, but I didn't start anything with Dakota Educational Consulting until 2013, was the first time,” Kirkegaard said.
While Kirkegaard was with them, Dakota Education Consulting also lists Meade School District as a client for strategic planning.
He says that was the school board's idea, not his and that Melmer did the work.
Other Dakota Educational Consulting clients included the Department of Education and the School Administrators of South Dakota.
But Kirkegaard tells KELOLAND News he didn't have anything to do with those jobs and promises this as the new Secretary of Education:
“I truly am going to be as open as I can. My door will be open and people can come and visit anytime they like and I will try to provide them with honesty and integrity,” Kirkegaard said.
A new conflict of interest law went into effect in South Dakota following the GEAR UP scandal. Kirkegaard has applied and got waivers from the Board of Education because of grants his district receives.
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