PLATTE, S.D. — A sense of normalcy is beginning to return to surrounding school districts two years after a murder-suicide put a rural South Dakota community in the spotlight for a high-profile corruption case involving stolen education funds.

Scott Westerhuis fatally shot his wife and four children before killing himself in 2015. The state later found that Westerhuis embezzled more than $1 million from his business, Mid-Central Educational Cooperative, at the expense of the schools in the group.

Mid-Central dissolved this summer, forcing member districts to form a new cooperative that provides special education services.

Mid-Central administered Gear Up, a federal program aimed at helping low-income middle and high school students prepare for college. In South Dakota, the program focused on Native Americans.

The state sued the 13 rural districts in June, saying they should foot the bill if the U.S. Department of Education decides to make the state refund a $4 million grant from Mid-Central. Many of the districts have set aside extra money for attorney costs, and the threat of the lawsuit could linger over them for years.

“Obviously it’s stressful because nobody knows what’s going on,” said Robert Schroeder, superintendent for White Lake Schools.

But things are returning to normal, at least on the playground and in classrooms, the Argus Leader reported.

“Our kids are doing great,” said Jennifer Knecht, Platte’s elementary school principal. “It hasn’t affected us day-to-day.”

Members of the new cooperative, Core Educational, said students are still getting the same services under the new co-op.


Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com

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