My Parting Shots (Part I)
While Rob Miller bade adieu to Janet Costello Barresi last weekend, I have yet to say my formal goodbyes. With a few things on my mind, I’ll spread my parting shots out over the course of the weekend, though. Things I’d like to cover include:
- Barresi’s last email to superintendents
- Barresi’s recent editorials
- The Oklahoman inadvertently making one of my own points for me
- Barresi’s hiring spree
That’s right, at 10:00 on a Saturday night, I’m committing to (at least) four blog posts this weekend. For the first one, we’ll start with Friday at 3:54 p.m., when Barresi sent the following email message to district superintendents:
As you might recall, I emailed you after the Dec. 18 Oklahoma State Board of Education meeting to let you know about a change in the method of calculation of the mid-year adjustment. At that time, we had not received the information our agency needed from the state Tax Commission to begin our mid-year adjustment calculation that would be aligned with the 1992 law. I wanted to follow up and let you know the current situation regarding the mid-year adjustment and what you can expect moving forward.
As I stated in the earlier email, the change you will see in the calculation is that commercial and agricultural personal property taxes will be capped at 11 percent.
In past years that cap has not been utilized. Nevertheless, a statute effective in 1992 requires the cap to be placed on those elements of local ad valorem used as a chargeable in the state aid calculation.
My office became aware of this fact this past August. I moved quickly to correct the issue.
We received the majority of the information needed from the Tax Commission late last week. Some information discrepancies still need to be worked out, but State Department of Education staffers are working hard and will continue to do so this weekend. Every effort is being made to complete mid-year calculations by our statutory deadline of Jan. 15.
The payment scheduled to be made to schools on Jan. 15 will be made.
The payment will either be based upon the new mid-year allocation or your current allocation if we do not have sufficient time to complete the adjustment. Any differences in the current and mid-year allocation will be made up during the remainder of the fiscal year. While I understand this will be a significant burden to districts, I wanted to get this information to you as quickly as possible to facilitate planning and your communication with your boards and constituents. As you know, the accuracy of these calculations is of paramount importance.
Superintendent of Public Instruction
In other words, you’ll either get the correct amount on Monday, when the new state superintendent takes office, or you won’t. You’ll get something, and then maybe it’ll be corrected later. That’s a nice last missive, and a funny position from a state superintendent who has repeatedly threatened to withhold funds from districts that failed to meet statutory reporting deadlines…but I digress.
As many of us have suspected, the SDE Finance Office is limited to the information the Oklahoma Tax Commission provides them. It is the fault of no one at the SDE – past or present – that this 22 year mistake hasn’t been corrected until now. Last month, the Oklahoman wondered aloud why nobody was blaming the administration prior to Barresi’s.
Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard told the Tulsa World, “This is the result of gross incompetence on somebody’s part and I don’t know whose.”
Ballard has routinely lambasted Baressi, a Republican, for education woes in this state. He has every right to do so. But it’s notable that he declined to aim similar venom at Sandy Garrett, the Democrat who was state superintendent from 1991 to 2011. She was in charge when the allocation changes were implemented.
Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, is also notably reticent. Hime was an assistant state superintendent for Garrett from 2004 to 2008, around the time Pennington says agency officials ignored him. Hime’s bio says he “provided oversight of allocations and payments of the state’s $2 billion education budget,” suggesting that he played a direct role in supervising the funding formula.
The problem seems to be with the information provided to the SDE. They don’t collect the revenue; they merely run numbers through the funding formula. They work with what they have. As I’ve previously stated, I’m less concerned with what happens this year than with what happens when a district (or districts) that has been on the short end of the funding mistake for 22 years sues. If they receive a favorable ruling, and districts that have been overpaid are then docked future aid payments, the outcome could be devastating. Nonetheless, a school board would not adequately be representing its community if it did not pursue the funding it had been shorted. This is going to be messy.
In her four years in office, Barresi has sent out some wacky emails. She’s even investigated the emails of others. After all that we’ve been through together, I was expecting a bigger bombshell in her last direct message to schools. I guess she was saving, as Rob put it, that one last turd, for her usual litterbox, the Oklahoman.