A meeting that originally slated approving MAPS for Kids design reports turned into a forum for voicing anger and frustration to the Oklahoma City Public Schools board Monday night.
Nineteen community members signed up to speak at the regularly scheduled meeting, which followed the school board's suspension of Superintendent John Q. Porter Monday morning.
David Helm, District I representative of the Oklahoma Council for Teachers of Mathematics and a teacher at John Marshall High School, was one of many who spoke on behalf of Porter, before about 100 people in the OKCPS administration auditorium.
Citing positive moves in communication between the superintendent and educators he has seen this year, Helm called for continuity and leaders "who will unite us and not divide us more, for we are much divided."
"I believe that person is Dr. Porter," he said. "If you remove this man, it will be a dagger to the hope that I have."
The mass turnout followed the board's 5-0 morning vote to suspend Porter with pay on the basis of his alleged failure to follow proper financial and other procedures.
Among 21 criticisms alleged in a report were that the superintendent:
" directed the approval of an expansion of a pilot Wireless Generation reading program (cost: $365,593.90) without seeking competitive bids.
" sought reimbursement for personal travel expenses.
" incurred excessive turnover in key staff positions and negative relationships with district principals.
" failed to communicate with the board.
Porter, who did not attend the 5:30 p.m. meeting, issued a letter saying no other vendor sells the reading program and that he did not intentionally misuse district funds. He wrote he would repay money attributed to expenses for which he was erroneously reimbursed.
Porter's future with the district will be decided at a Feb. 6 hearing. In the meantime, District 5 board representative Thelma Parks " who abstained from voting on Porter's suspension " and District 7's Wilfredo Santos Rivera called on attendees to get involved in the process if they wanted change.
"Talk is cheap, and we need to join forces to support this board," said Parks, whose voicing support for board Chairman Cliff Hudson met with groans from the audience. Hudson did not speak.
Santos Rivera challenged the public to focus on the district's students, saying both young black and Hispanic men are at risk.
"Dr. Porter's a lawyer; he's gonna defend himself," he said, "but these kids need something."
For Yolanda F., a community member who preferred not to give her last name, the proceedings ultimately raised more questions than provided answers.
With a child in charter school, "I just couldn't send my child (to a district school) where we live," she said, citing "too many bad things."
"I would reconsider if things changed," she added, but admitted the day's events instead caused her further concern. "Emily Jerman