The Board was created by Oklahoma’s Constitution and its powers are found in our state’s laws. I’ve attended some meetings that were dull and a few with heated debate. But, this last meeting was a doozy and I’d like to tell you about it.
By law, the Board is responsible for the hiring, firing, salaries, administration and policies of the state Department of Education. The State Superintendent sits on the Board as its chair and makes recommendations as its executive officer. Of all the states, only Oklahoma and Indiana have the State Superintendent sit as the state Board’s chair, instead of an advisor to the Board.
Much has been said about our last Board meeting. I, and other Board members, reached out to new State Superintendent Barresi after her election to foster a good working relationship. I met with Ms. Barresi in November and asked for her ideas on the Department, education and information on her proposed new hires. Nothing was provided. I followed up with an email, and another in December and early January.
Before the last Board meeting, I asked that personnel issues be discussed in executive session and Ms. Barresi refused. During the meeting, Ms. Barresi asked us to hire her campaign manager for the Department’s Chief of Staff at $96,000.00. The Chief of Staff is not a personal staffer. The position carries minimum qualifications, none of which the campaign manager possessed. The Department’s former Chief of Staff, who had a Masters in Education Administration and a Superintendent’s Certificate, made only $86,000.00. The person Ms. Barresi put forward as the Department’s Communications Director had media experience, but we already have three (3) persons working in communications and this person would have been an additional $92,000.00 salary. The individual Ms. Barresi wanted for the Department’s Finance Director, $86,000.00 per year, did not have a Finance or an Accounting Degree. The current Finance Director has the work experience and professional degrees required to handle the task of managing the state’s largest budget, over $2 billion. I suggested Ms. Barresi’s candidate take an Assistant Finance Director position, but that was refused.
The Board discovered that Ms. Barresi already had these individuals in the Department, exercising authority and giving orders. And, they were being paid by outside private funds that they would not identify the source of or the amounts. Only under pressure from the Board did Ms. Barresi tell us, and the public, what was going on. The Board voted unanimously to get an opinion from the state’s Attorney General on these matters. Ms. Barressi ruled that successful motion as improper and, later, refused to let it be heard under “New Business”. I felt that Ms. Barresi was using parliamentary tactics to shut down questions and fact finding. At one point I referred to what she was doing as a “dictator”. My choice of words should have been better, but my frustration was getting the better of me.
Ms. Barresi’s candidates for her administrative assistant, $46,500.00, and Legislative Liaison were approved by the Board. Ms. Barresi introduced the liaison as being pregnant, in less than optimal health and stated she would have to sit down and answer only a few questions. And, informed us that she would give birth in April. A discussion was had that April and May are the busiest time for a Legislative Liaison due to the Capitol’s legislation schedule. Another Board member made an unfortunate comment and later publically apologized for it. I, too, am sorry for any comments, by me or anyone else, that offended our new Legislative Liaison.
You should know that the state Board of Education was doing its job to protect the professional positions at the Department and shine light on recent events in a public setting. The Board is not a rubber stamp. No politics were involved in the Board members’ motives or actions. My term on the Board ends this April. It’s been an honor to serve and in the remaining months I am willing to work with the new Superintendent, as I’m sure are the remaining Board members. I suggest we all need to move forward for the sake of education in Oklahoma.