The Oklahoman: 'Politics and poor behavior'
Editorial/The Oklahoman ~ IF it's a power coup some members of the Oklahoma State Board of Education were seeking, they'll likely get their wish. Just not in the way they envisioned.
The outrageous behavior of some board members — particularly Tim Gilpin and Herb Rozell — at state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi's first board meeting last week spurred Gov. Mary Fallin and numerous legislators to mount a stout defense of Barresi.
Some lawmakers are poised to curtail the board's responsibilities and give Barresi more power. Two called for Rozell's resignation based on his comment that a newly hired employee would be “worthless to us” as a legislative liaison if she were absent on maternity leave during the last month of the legislative session. It was a classless remark — even if meant in jest — that left the woman in tears.
The board could have used Barresi's first meeting to advance the idea that they're on board with much-needed reform and improving public education.
Instead, the meeting was dominated by Gilpin's repeated reminders that the appointed board — not the elected superintendent — would be running the show.
Ironically, Rozell wondered at one point whether Barresi was trying to micromanage the department. This after the board refused to hire three people Barresi wanted on her leadership team, with Gilpin chiding Barresi that it was the board's job to select employees.
The showdown wasn't a total surprise. Gilpin supported Barresi's opponent, Rozell is a former Democratic state senator from Tahlequah and all of the board members were appointed by former Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat.
Last month, Andrew Spiropoulos with the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs surely ruffled some feathers when he suggested that the Legislature should rethink the state board's authority — a position he repeated even as Thursday's meeting was ongoing.
It makes little sense for the public to elect a statewide official only to have an appointed board dictate matters such as who she can and can't hire as chief of staff.
This set-up deserves a closer review devoid of political posturing and rhetoric.
Meantime, it's not too much to expect all involved to act like adults. Gilpin is clearly a listening post for disgruntled and worried Education Department employees who served under former Superintendent Sandy Garrett and is bent on making Barresi's job more difficult, at least until his term expires in April. We can't imagine that's what Henry had in mind for his appointments.
Perhaps most damaging is the message last week's meeting sends to schools. Board members should be unequivocal in their words and actions that they recognize the tough challenge ahead for schools while reminding them expectations are high. Instead, politics and poor behavior ruled the day.