Sunday, February 6, 2011

Steele: Board Of Education Ignored Henry's Orders

House Speaker
Kris Steele
House Speaker Kris Steele says that while denying the schools superintendent her ability to hire her senior staff is a concern, the Board of Education has engaged in a pattern of rogue behavior that is of even greater concern, including misadministration of funds and ignoring executive orders.

Steele and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman are pushing a bill that would effectively strip the board of its authority over the Department of Education.

“As a statewide-elected official chosen by the citizens of Oklahoma, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi must be allowed to hire her own staff and implement promised reform at the Department of Education,” said Steele, R-Shawnee. “Senate Bill 718 will give her that authority. It is important to advance this necessary reform so we can truly begin the important work of improving Oklahoma schools to benefit all children of this state.”

Under Senate Bill 718, the superintendent would have clear operational control of the Department of Education while the Board would continue to have an advisory role in supervision of the public school system.

While the Board’s recent refusal to approve the hiring of qualified personnel at the agency has generated the most controversy and headlines, the group has established a pattern of behavior that led legislative leaders to immediately advance the reform measures, Steele said. 

Among other things, the board voted to divert $18 million from the teachers’ retirement system last summer, violating an executive order from then-Governor Brad Henry. The board did not reverse course until former Democratic Attorney General Drew Edmondson issued a formal opinion declaring the fund shift illegal; violated guidelines over the use of federal stimulus funds and, after redirecting the funds for purposes authorized by the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, failed to provide correct reporting guidelines to schools using the money; and failed to approve a budget work program that complies with former Henry’s executive order 2010-26, issued last June.

As a result, the Department of Education has been operating on temporary allotments.

“Under current law, an unelected board has the ability to thwart the will of the voters,” Steele said. “It is imperative that state government be responsive to the voice of Oklahoma citizens, and I believe this reform will provide a clear line of accountability at the agency.”

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