I like the Spite in you!
As you start your Thursday, I have several things I would like you to read. Collectively, they represent the culmination of four years of incompetence, spitefulness, and rule-breaking by State Superintendent Janet Barresi and her minions at the SDE.
First, let me backtrack a few days. Last week, when the SDE released their A-F Report Cards to barely a whimper, I had a few emails about them. Soon, however, I started receiving messages from a variety of sources about a hire that had been made at the SDE. Barresi had created a new Assistant State Superintendent position, filled it without posting it, hired an executive staff member’s husband, and run off a long-time employee. I had this information from a variety of sources, but I wanted some confirmation before writing the story.
Yesterday, that confirmation came in droves. Here’s the Tulsa World’s account of the story:
Outgoing State Superintendent Janet Barresi has created a new assistant state superintendent position and hired the husband of a top Education Department official to fill it, raising questions about cronyism.
State Rep. Jason Smalley, R-Stroud, called it “a good ol’ boy hire” and is calling for the immediate resignation of Barresi, her general counsel Kim Richey and Larry Birney, Richey’s husband and the new assistant state superintendent.
Further in the article, the World discusses how this decision impacted the accreditation division as a whole.
Lynn Jones, a longtime regional accreditation officer who was promoted last year to executive director of accreditation, resigned over the matter.
“I was surprised,” Jones told the Tulsa World on Wednesday. She said Barresi called her into her office on Sept. 15 and informed her that she had created the position and hired Birney to fill it. Jones said Barresi told her that Birney would be her new supervisor.
On Sept. 17, Jones said she submitted her resignation to Chief of Staff Joel Robison because he had been her immediate boss.
“I determined that wouldn’t be a good situation for me. I was uncomfortable,” she said. Jones had been the head of the accreditation department for 13 months and was a regional accreditation officer for eight years prior to that.
I agree. It’s hard to work for someone who has no idea what you do or why you do it. She was placed in an untenable situation and made the only decision that she could. The word you’re looking for is integrity. Jones has it.
In contrast, here is the SDE’s announcement about the new hire.
OSDE announces Larry Birney new superintendent of accreditation, compliance
OKLAHOMA CITY (Sept. 24, 2014) — Dr. Larry L. Birney has been named assistant state superintendent for accreditation and compliance for the Oklahoma State Department of Education. The new position will help OSDE’s accreditation standards division ensure local schools are operating in compliance with state laws.
Birney served as executive director of the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Standards in Oklahoma from June 2008 until May 2011, when he retired. He was a 35-year veteran of the San Antonio Police Department, rising to the rank of acting deputy chief and later director of police human resources.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi said Birney brings a needed expertise in investigation.
“OSDE routinely receives a number of allegations and complaints involving schools around the state, accusations that run the gamut from mismanagement to privacy violations to potentially criminal matters,” she said. “One need look no further than newspaper headlines and TV news broadcasts to see the spectrum of situations that warrant professional, precise and effective investigation. Larry Birney is uniquely qualified for this role, combining significant experience in law enforcement and education.”
Birney holds a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Texas at San Antonio, a master’s degree in educational administration from Texas A&M University at Kingsville and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Texas State University in San Marcos.
In addition, he is a graduate of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Academy in Quantico, Va., and is a certified advanced peace officer and instructor through the Oklahoma Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET).
Birney is the husband of Kim Richey, OSDE general counsel. They reside in Ada.
“It has become clear that our accreditation standards division would benefit from the skills of a professional investigator,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi said. “Adding someone with experience in education and law enforcement to our team also adds a new well of resources and investigative approaches. It’s an additional form of support for that division.”
“Mr. Birney had previously applied to serve as a Regional Accreditation Officer, which is when I became familiar with his impressive background. He has decades of experience in fields that combine law enforcement, education and human resource management, and he will be very effective in his role here,” Barresi said.
With three months left in her term, Barresi has hired someone who will certainly be fired in January, if not sooner. With all due respect to Rob Miller, whose brilliant piece My Little Crony, paints this as a case of favoritism, I believe something more nefarious is at play. Janet Barresi has created the post of in-house private investigator to harass and sully the names of her biggest critics. Anyone who has crossed her is now a target. She will find you, and she has the tool(s) to find your dirt.
In my professional years, I have worked with many accreditation officers. Rarely do they operate from the posture of trying to catch schools and districts doing things wrong. Rather, they focus on helping leaders solve problems and avoid non-compliance. Theirs is not a gotcha game. Maybe that’s what bothers Barresi.
She mentions that schools need investigating for law-breaking. Isn’t that what the police are for? This is not the domain of the SDE. Rep. Smalley knows this well. Here’s his press release:
OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Jason Smalley said today he is calling for the resignation of state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi, Dr. Larry Birney and Kim Richey.
“I am calling for an immediate hiring and firing freeze at the Oklahoma State Department of Education and calling on Superintendent Janet Barresi, Dr. Larry Birney and Kim Richey to immediately step down,” said Smalley, R-Stroud. “This past week a new position was created within the agency for what I view as a good ol’ boy hire.”
Lynn Jones, a knowledgeable and experienced regional accreditation officer who was serving as executive director, stepped down last week as she was informed she had a new boss, Smalley said. Jones was previously one of the most experienced in her field and was promoted last year to executive director from the field office, he said.
“I have personally worked with Lynn; she is extremely knowledgeable and gifted in what she does,” Smalley said. “She has an abundance of knowledge and was an amazing resource to myself and all of the schools she served.
“It seems to me that we would want to keep our best and brightest close to us to allow a less of a learning curve come January when a new leader takes office. To replace someone and create a new position with only eight weeks left is inexcusable and shows that the SDE, a bureaucratic monster, is out of control.
“This is irresponsible and accomplishes nothing, it hurts public education and decisions like this should be left until the new superintendent is sworn in.”
The new hire is Dr. Larry Birney, a law enforcement specialist who served as the executive director for the Council of Law Enforcement Education and Training. He resigned in 2011 after a formal panel was formed to investigate an ongoing personal inquiry. Dr. Birney served with the San Antonio Police Department for 35 years and was with CLEET since 2008.
“I don’t question his law enforcement experience, I question his education expertise and qualifications for this newly created position,” Smalley said.
It just so happens that Larry’s wife is Kim Richey, who serves as general counsel for the state education department. Dr. Birney and Mrs. Richey worked together at CLEET as well.
“My question is why we are hiring individuals that have no K-12 education experience to come in and now be in charge of the accreditation standards of our schools,” Smalley said. “As of right now our standards are subject to change in Oklahoma. We need to keep the most experienced people we have to help with the transition. That is what’s best for our schools and our children in Oklahoma. Not hiring spouses and friends, to secure jobs.”
Smalley also noted the financial cost.
“As a legislator every year school funding is a top priority,” Smalley said. “It concerns me when the state education department adds a $90,000 salary and then continues to ask for more and more operational costs.”
In short, this is nothing more than an abuse of power by Barresi. She has enemies, and she wants to take them down before she walks away. This story is a bigger deal than the fact that nobody cares about the A-F Report cards. Public officials, until their last day of service, need to be held accountable for their actions. Barresi’s actions are at a minimum unethical. They may even be criminal. If it is the latter, then somebody needs to have charges filed.
Later this morning, the State Board of Education will convene to, among other things, re-hire fired testing vendor CTB/McGraw-Hill on a technicality. Our state will pay them (if it is approved) millions to administer the winter tests. Good luck with that.
Another interesting nugget on the agenda is that the Office of Educator Effectiveness will propose penalties – including withholding State Aid – for districts they find not to be in compliance with reporting under the Teacher-Leader Effectiveness program. Again we have more spite.
Barresi’s administration got off to a poor start nearly four years ago when she hired unqualified staff and paid them with a slush fund donor money. The state attorney general ruled it illegal and gave her a stern talking to. This pattern of behavior cannot be allowed to stand. She’s still breaking laws, and must be treated accordingly. I’m with Smalley; these three must go now!