Tulsa Public Schools has hired a controversial superintendent who headed Rhode Island schools, and like former Schools Superintendent Janet Barresi, was one of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change.
After a contentious Tulsa School board meeting, three dozen teachers and parents protesting the hiring walked out of the meeting.
As the controversy unfolded, a former Barresi aide took to social media to
defend the decision.
Deborah Gist comes from Rhode Island, where she was a Democrat-appointed state superintendent and a strong advocate for Common Core, the controversial program now closely linked to the Obama Administration. In a survey, 85% of Rhode Island teachers wanted Gist fired.
Former Barresi spokesman Damon Gardenhire writes on Facebook the following: “It was bizarre to watch some unhinged people (bloggers demanding “Don’t hire Gist,” picketers with absurd “Reboot and Reconsider” signs, people staging silly stunts like walking out of meetings) attack Deborah Gist before she’s even been hired or even set foot in Tulsa to start her job. This crowd of bullies looks increasingly illogical and intolerant – essentially, they are the anti-reform party with one answer to everything: ‘No.’ But that’s education politics.”
State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister wants a standards committee created by the Legislature to be subject to the open meetings law, she told the State Board of Education today.
Sources say an ally of former Superintendent Janet Barresi, Amy Ford, is chairwoman of the committee. Hofmeister, however, managed to get herself appointed to the committee as well in a move approved by the board.
There are three state board members on the standards committee, and board member Bill Price stepped down so that Hofmeister could replace him.
Had she tried to attend, there would have been four state board members present and constituted a violation of the meetings act.
See the related story: http://mccarvillereport.com/archives/26387
Former Schools Superintendent Janet Barresi spent $1.3 million on her losing reelection campaign: http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/2014_elections/janet-barresi-tops-list-of-political-donors-in-oklahoma/article_40afba5f-9bef-51c8-9409-a6479fc6d2c5.html
The Oklahoman reports, “New state schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister has fired two more key members of Janet Barresi’s leadership team, bringing to six the number of state Education Department executives and staff she has terminated since taking office Jan. 12.
A spokesman for Hofmeister on Tuesday confirmed the departure of Lisa Chandler, director of assessments, and Jeff Downs, executive director of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Also terminated was Liz Young, Barresi’s executive assistant, according to spokesman Phil Bacharach. Hofmeister has declined to comment on the personnel moves. It is also unknown how Hofmeister plans to fill the vacancies.
What’s lawful and what’s right are not always the same.
That truth was apparent Monday when the Tulsa World reported that outgoing Superintendent of Schools Janet Barresi made 11th-hour personnel changes. Newly sworn schools chief Joy Hofmeister will have to live with those, and Oklahoma taxpayers will have to live with the $653,000 added to the state’s payroll. Barresi hired five and promoted three in her last week on the job.
Barresi’s attitude was laid bare in the opening few words of her written response to the World, which began, “It is my right as superintendent of public instruction …” But having the right doesn’t make it right.
Barresi was trounced in her re-election bid, becoming the rare incumbent to not merely lose in a primary election, but to finish third with just 21 percent of the vote. It is hard to recall any elected official who has been fired so resolutely by the voters. Carroll Fisher, Jack Walton and David Hall each likely stood a better chance of winning an election than Barresi, who alienated school administrators, teachers and parents alike in just one term. That’s quite a feat considering her predecessor, Sandy Garrett, managed to keep the rarely contentious job for 20 years, eventually retiring in 2010.
Barresi knew in June she was out of the job. She knew Oklahomans wanted someone else – perhaps anyone else – to take the reins of public education. The right thing to do was to start a smooth transition to a new administration. There was plenty of time.
Instead, Barresi in September created the position of assistant state superintendent of accreditation and compliance and hired a career law enforcement officer, Larry Birney, to fill the unadvertised job. Birney happens to be married to Barresi’s general counsel, Kim Richey. We are also reminded that Barresi started her term with three controversial hires who had supervisory duties over state employees, although they were being paid by a private nonprofit organization.
That astonishing level of arrogance comes as no surprise to those who tried to deal with Barresi when she was overseeing the charter high school she launched, Harding Charter Prep, where bullying tactics over a sublease led to a legal battle with the school’s co-tenant, Harding Fine Arts Academy.
As promised during her campaign, Schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister has rehung the Education of Fame portraits in the main hallways of the Department of Education. They had been moved to an interior hall.
But Janet Barresi’s consultant and former top aide, Jennifer Carter, said the main hallway was used to display student art during her tenure and there was nothing sinister about moving the photos during her tenure. The photos apparently were moved back to the main hallways just prior to Hofmeister’s taking of the oath on Monday at noon.
The portraits of public educators were removed from the hallways to display the student art, Carter said.
Carter also argued that negative stories about Barresi in recent days reflect a pattern of attacks on her.
“Just a bullcrap complaint from the Ed blob. Again, they want more recognition for themselves rather than the kids, which has always been Janet’s focus.”
She said The McCarville Report and others are “piling on” Barresi, who got less than 22 percent of the vote in her bid to retain office.
In this file photo, Janet Barresi talks about her tenure as Oklahoma state superintendent of instruction. She lost the Republican primary to Joy Hofmeister, who will replace her on Monday. STEVE GOOCH/The Oklahoman
State Superintendent Janet Barresi has been busy hiring and promoting employees from within the Oklahoma State Department of Education in her final days and weeks in office.
All told, her new hires total about $653,000 in base salary costs, and the salary increases that accompanied promotions, not counting one executive’s unknown bump in pay, total $62,000.
On Monday alone, five new employees with salaries totaling $290,500 were hired. Among them is the executive director of the new Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, with a salary of $90,000.
On Wednesday, Michele Sprague was promoted to executive director of literacy and Kayla Hindman was promoted to director of early childhood education and elementary English language arts. Both received $5,000 raises.
On Friday, Todd Loftin was promoted to assistant state superintendent for special education services with a salary of $80,000, but officials were unsure how much of a raise that salary amount represented because the decision came so late in the day.
Asked for an accounting of all recent promotions, shifts and new hires, Phil Bacharach, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, responded with a report that shows there have been 12 other internal transfers — including six promotions — and 13 new hires since the beginning of November.
Joy Hofmeister, who defeated Barresi in the primary and Democrat John Cox in the general election, is to be sworn in Monday.
Asked to comment on the hirings and inter-departmental
musical chairs, Hofmeister called the situation “disappointing.”
“Instability in any state agency is a hallmark of failed leadership. Future staff decisions will be made with careful consideration and respect for all involved,” she said.
“I look forward to joining the State Department of Education next week. I know there are hardworking people in the department and I look forward to getting to know them better. Plans are underway to conduct a formal capacity review of the agency to ensure we have the right people in the right places to best serve our state.
“My focus remains the schoolchildren of Oklahoma. Monday marks a new day for education.”
Barresi, who came in third place out of the three candidates in June’s Republican primary election, drew criticism and calls for her immediate resignation in late September when she created a new position and hired the husband of her general counsel, Kim Richey, to fill it.
The brand-new position of assistant state superintendent of accreditation and compliance has a base salary of $90,000. Barresi hired Larry Birney, a career law enforcement official who made headlines statewide when he resigned as executive director of the Council of Law Enforcement Education and Training, or CLEET, in Ada in 2011 after three years there. The resignation came after a formal panel was formed to investigate his conduct.
As a result, several lawmakers have pledged upcoming legislation to prevent outgoing state officials and lawmakers from making nonessential hires or creating new positions in the future.
On Friday evening, Barresi defended her actions in a written statement to the Tulsa World.
“It is my right as superintendent of public instruction to make personnel decisions, and the literacy position is critical for this state.
“I can tell you Michelle Sprague has been there from the beginning of (the Reading Sufficiency Act). She has vast understanding of every component of it, and her breadth and depth of knowledge on the subject of reading instruction is, I believe, without peer. There is no one in this state who knows as much about RSA and how to implement it,” Barresi said.
“Similarly, I have every confidence Todd Loftin will be tremendous in his new role. He has the confidence of educators, has proven himself a strong leader and has been excellent in his work with a multi-state collaborative to help profoundly disabled students.”
As the Legislature holds its traditional organizational day today, education appears to be the issue taking center stage. Both the House and state Senate will elect its leaders Tuesday, and Rep. Lee Denney, of Cushing, is expected to be sworn in as the new speaker pro-tem.
Tulsa World Editorial page editor Wayne Greene writes on Sunday that Denney is one of the best friends teachers have had in the GOP caucus in years. He points to her proposal to provide dedicated funding increases to education, which failed last year, but which she promises to bring back this year.
Governor Fallin, meanwhile, lists increasing “educational attainment” as her first New Year’s resolution and reaffirmed her support for Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister.
“In the coming year, I am committed to working with our new Superintendent; our lawmakers, educators and parents; our career technology centers, colleges and universities; and our business community to implement a long term plan to increase educational attainment.”
But while most agree education takes center stage, not every opinion piece writer is likely to agree on the solutions.
The Oklahoman, an ally of outgoing Superintendent Janet Barresi, took another shot at incoming superintendent Hofmeister in its Wish List for 2015.“One thing never in doubt during the term of outgoing state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi was that she was committed to providing all Oklahoma children, regardless of socio-economic background, a quality education.
“We hope her successor, Joy Hofmeister, will also pursue that goal, regardless of the many slings and arrows that will be aimed her way if she truly seeks to improve schools. Oklahoma doesn’t need a ribbon-cutter as superintendent; it continues to need an agent of change.”
Twenty-fourteen was a memorable political year. Early on perceived to be an electoral sleeper, with one announcement it quickly became one of the most interesting election years in recent history. Tom Coburn’s retirement from the Senate set off the campaign bells for many others in the domino fall that followed. Here’s our assessment of 2014′s winners and losers, with congrats to the winners and condolences to the losers.
Biggest Newsmaker!U.S. Senator Tom Coburn retired from office and, in doing so, received accolades from friend and foe alike. Virtually every major national news outlet, including CBS’s “60 Minutes,” featured the career of the stubborn conservative who often halted big spending and shed a light on the Washington, D.C., culture in his impressive 16 years in office. In spite of his cantankerous style, Coburn taught that policy disagreements aren’t personal, and even worked with and has called President Obama a friend.
Biggest Prize!U.S. Senator James Lankford scored the biggest prize of the year, joining the club known as the United States Senate and in doing so, becoming a powerhouse elected official in Oklahoma. Lankford, with an impressive grassroots organization anchored by Southern Baptists, a deep authoritative voice, a command of issues, and a pseudo-endorsement from Coburn, easily defeated former House Speaker T.W. Shannon. Shannon finished second after becoming the darling of the far right nationally.
Biggest Upset Win!Tulsan Joy Hofmeister not only trounced the incumbent Janet Barresi in the state superintendent’s race, the Tulsa World reported it was the worst defeat for an incumbent in a statewide primary in Oklahoma history. Education is clearly on the minds of Oklahomans, and Barresi’s harsh style made her among the most unpopular of political figures in recent state history. Hofmeister marshaled an odd coalition of educators, conservative activists angered over the Common Core curriculum, and Republican lawmakers upset with Barresi, to put together an impressive 58-percent margin, winning the GOP primary without a runoff and pushing the incumbent into third place.
Biggest Save of the Year! 47 Republican state legislators edged out onto a forbidden limb to endorse Hofmeister (against a sitting Republican official) and helped her become the credible alternative to Barresi. The prospects of running with Barresi as a noose hung around their political necks during the November general election was likely a motivating factor for some, but benefactors included Governor Fallin and Republicans down the ticket.
Biggest Surprise of the Year!Democrat Joe Dorman made it closer than expected. Nobody, but nobody, expected a little-known state representative with a weak profile, little name recognition, a lack of significant funds, and without even a geographical base, to mount a substantial challenge to Fallin. But Dorman did just that, and while Fallin eventually won by a fairly sizeable margin, she fell far short of expectations for governors seeking re-election. What was the issue that held Fallin’s numbers down? Many observers believe it was the education debacles.
Biggest Grassroots Win!Newly-elected Congressman Steve Russell has told the story for a decade about his role in the capture of Saddam Hussein. Despite being outspent, Russell outdistanced six candidates, including a self-financed Rep. Mike Turner, who spent nearly a million dollars of the family fortune; powerful Senate Appropriations Chairman Clark Jolley; and Fallin Corporation Commission-appointee and former Edmond Mayor Patrice Douglas.
Biggest Return to Victory! Former House Speaker Todd Hiett is now Corporation Commissioner Hiett. In perhaps the most brutal campaign of the year, he defeated former state Senator and Energy Chairman Cliff Brannan who had wide support from the large energy corporations and their powerful lobbyists. Hiett, a favorite among Republican activists, was heavily outspent, but the memory of his leadership in the GOP brought him across the finish line out-front. After leading the GOP to its historic takeover of the state House, Hiett lost eight years ago in the lieutenant governor’s race to Jari Askins, which was the last time a Democrat won a down-ballot race in Oklahoma.
Biggest Loser!Former State Senator Randy Brogdon, who ran a respectable second place in the GOP primary to Fallin in 2010, left his job at the Insurance Commission and was set to run against Fallin again. But Brogdon for some reason switched lanes instead to campaign for the U.S. Senate. He got a humiliating 4.8 percent. Ouch! His “campaign” was the butt of jokes; he was out-flanked, out-spent and out-worked. And now, he’s running once again, trying to oust Republican Party Chairman Dave Weston in the party’s upcoming convention. Pam Pollard, longtime GOP activist and president of the Oklahoma Federation of Republican Women, also is a candidate. This is the fifth different elected post that Brogdon, the former Owasso mayor and state employee, has sought.
Biggest Win in Little Dixie! Senator Joseph Silk from McCurtain County won an open seat in the farthest southeastern corner of the state. And he reportedly did it with few resources and without the expensive consultants often hired in today’s world. The Oklahoma Republican Party and staff reportedly worked with Silk and the local grassroots to paint a broad red stroke across southeastern Oklahoma and land another blow deep in the heart of Little Dixie.
Biggest Fatal Shot Fired!Senate Pro-Tem Brian Bingman and his campaign crew win this award. Defending with success one of their incumbents (Josh Brecheen) being challenged by every business and labor powerhouse in Oklahoma City, Senate Republicans also picked up new four seats and relegated Senate Democrats to single-digit status for the first time in state history. The count now is 40 Republicans, eight Democrats. In his last term as leader, Bingman has overseen the political demolishing of Democrats in the Senate while at the helm. It’s a long way back to power for Oklahoma’s Senate Democrats, who remarkably shared power as recently as six years ago.