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What’s going on at the state Board of Education?

Tim Gilpin February 2nd, 2011

Until recently, Oklahomans probably did not know we have a state Board of Education. I have served on the Board for almost 6 years.

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.

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02.03.2011 at 12:30 Reply

Unfortunately, the last sentence regarding moving forward for the sake of education in Oklahoma is exactly what Tim Gilpin is trying to impede.  If the leadership of the State Department of Education and the six year reign of Tim Gilpin and the state school board have been the driving force behind the success of education in Oklahoma, they have failed miserably.

Gilpin states "By law, the Board is responsible for the hiring, firing, salaries, administration and policies of the state Department of Education."  Since this is true (though a policy never followed during Sandy Garrett’s tenure), Gilpin implicates himself and the school board for ANY and ALL of the failed policies of the State Department of Education taking full responsibility for the last six years of his votes and employees hired here.  I think it's clear to voters that education in Oklahoma needs improvement.  And since Tim Gilpin has asked for it, give the responsibility to him.  He is 1/6th (though more because of his outgoing attitude) responsible for EVERYTHING that took place in the SDE.  Was it Sandy Garrett?  NO.  It was Tim Gilpin.  Those are his words.  So if you as a voter feel there is a need to place blame for the leadership of the SDE, don’t look at Sandy Garrett, Tim has asked that you blame him.  What has Tim Gilpin and the state board done to improve it over the last six years?  Shouldn’t six years be enough time to accomplish some kind of improvement?  Too bad the people don’t get to have an election to fill the State Board of Education seats.

Janet Barresi’s recommendations for these positions are NOT educators.  What the state department does not need is another teacher or superintendent who could not make it in the classroom setting and took a job at the SDE instead.  We need qualified individuals with real leadership skills to transform the agency.  Will they make more money?  Yes!  And they should.  Janet Barresi’s plan is to reduce the amount of employees and increase the skill level, leadership level and problem solving skills of the ones that stay and are hired in.  They have a monumental task before them that unfortunately is on hold due to the political posturing of one man who is not an elected, but rather appointed individual.  April cannot come soon enough.  And when it does, hopefully some of the other board members will be able to think for themselves and attempt to improve education.  And hopefully if the meetings calm down, Gayle Miles-Scott will still be able to stay awake.


02.09.2011 at 09:30 Reply

I agree with the statement that the state board of education has failed miserably, we need change, and big change. On the other hand I also agree with the fact that we need not only professional leaders but professional leaders with formal training in their area of duties. I believe the state board of education and Ms Barresi need to sit down and work for the sake of the children in this state.  If Ms Barresi wants to hire someone who will be temporarily unavailable, that is her right, she can deal with it when the time comes. what do other agencies do when workers are temporarily unavailable?   Do that also in this situation. I also agree that the board should not have powers over elected officials, that part of the law should be changed.  Money amounts for salary, you usually get what you pay for.