Monday, January 31, 2011

State Board of Education Members Should Resign

State officials are preparing to conclude an extensive study of the state’s segmented and costly information technology systems. As part of this study, officials are required to review state technology assets and assemble a report which demonstrates how many millions of dollars will be saved if the state adopts an enterprise-wide IT plan.

This research has already exposed many duplicative processes that are absolutely wasting taxpayer dollars.The study is expected to be released in the next few weeks and will serve as a road map to legislation this year. Since the legislative session is just starting to get underway, this has obviously created a tight time line which was made even tighter when the Department of Education refused to cooperate with the study. In fact, the Department wouldn’t allow state officials to conduct the study even though it is mandated by law.

Fortunately, with the arrival of new State Superintendent Janet Barresi, the Department has finally started to comply with the law and allow this important work to be accomplished. Her arrival is a breath of much needed fresh air.

It was not at all a pleasant experience to listen to the audio from Janet Barresi’s first Department of Education board meeting and to hear how disrespectfully she was treated by the extremely partisan board appointees of the previous Governor. I have never heard a board chairman treated with such disrespect. As a legislative committee chairman, I know first hand that the board must respect the chairman’s authority if the meeting is going to run efficiently. From the start, not only was Barresi not afforded this respect, but her ability to run the meeting was obviously taken away from her with great malice.

Barresi is taking on one of the most difficult challenges that any Oklahoma office holder has ever encountered. Reforming the Oklahoma common education monster and the State Department of Education is a herculean task and Barresi must be able to appoint a team of professionals to assist her. The board obviously knows this and refused to confirm the appointment of three of Barresi’s assistants despite the fact that they are well qualified for their respective jobs. I know this first hand because I have directly worked with two of the three assistants.This includes the former Deputy Commissioner for Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland and the former press secretary for the House of Representatives. They are both well qualified.

The low point of the meeting occurred when a board member made a now well-publicized and extremely inappropriate and derogatory comment about another former co-worker of mine who recently left her job with us so she could assist Barresi at the Department. I was sorry to see her go as she is one of the nicest people you could ever meet and was set to be the lead Government Modernization staffer for the House during the upcoming session. It is unbelievable that this qualified professional is being treated in a most demeaning way simply because she chose to work for someone who wants to reform Oklahoma’s common education system. There should be no place in state government where it is acceptable to treat someone in this manner.

You may visit to listen to the audio recordings from the board meeting. You will be shocked to learn that the individuals who are behaving so badly have held unchecked power over common education in Oklahoma. This type of behavior would be deemed unacceptable if expressed by a student on any given school playground in Oklahoma.

The people of Oklahoma have spoken in support of Superintendent Barresi and education reform. It is obvious to me that the current board members are opposed to reform and intend to block Barresi at every turn. They do not represent the views of Oklahomans and they should immediately resign. If not, they risk being noted in history as the last desperate attempt to preserve an indefensible system of failure that has greatly harmed the future of so many Oklahoma students.

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