Is the State Board of Education Puttin’ on the Ritz
I’m afraid we’re on the verge of following Indiana again. It seems that certain State Board of Education members, who are in cahoots with members of the Legislature, are flexing their muscles for a power grab at the Oliver Hodge Building.
What are you talking about, Rick? May I call you Rick? What’s with all the vague references already?
What I’m talking about is yesterday’s SBE meeting, which should have been pretty routine. The agenda was so unremarkable that I forgot about it until last night. Then I read Andrea Eger’s reporting from the Tulsa World.
At the conclusion of three hours dominated by the board’s consideration of routine rule-setting, Hofmeister adjourned the meeting with the bang of a gavel and was met with angry objections by three board members.
Bill Price, a board member from Oklahoma City, said he had wanted the board to consider a recommendation of his under “new business.”
Lee Baxter, of Lawton, stood up and questioned Hofmeister’s adjournment of the meeting and stormed out of the room as Amy Ford, of Durant, said she wanted to consider Price’s recommendation.
Hofmeister said, “Mr. Price, I called for new business. Nothing was said. I moved to adjourn.”
But then Price interrupted, saying, “Five seconds later you said ‘public comment.’ No. That is not the way to run a public meeting.”
Members Dan Keating, of Tulsa, and Cathryn Franks, of Roosevelt, were absent from Thursday’s meeting.
Member Bill Shdeed, of Oklahoma City, who was recognized for his service earlier Thursday because it was his last meeting on the board, made no remarks during the exchange.
After the meeting, Price and Ford spoke in raised voices to Lance Nelson, who Hofmeister introduced to the board Thursday as her newly hired chief of staff. Ford vowed to “uniformly vote down every issue” until the dispute is resolved, and Price concurred.
Price told the Tulsa World that he had been trying unsuccessfully since January to get the matter heard publicly. He said conflicts over the board agenda had never arisen under the administration of Hofmeister’s predecessor, Janet Barresi, who Hofmeister defeated in the June 2014 Republican primary.
Asked for examples of agenda items board members are seeking, Price told the Tulsa World, “For one, I would like a legislative update to be presented. We had that every time for four years. I’d also like to have for next month a resolution in support of this child abuse bill, Senate Bill 301.”
Sponsored by State Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City, SB 301 would require school officials to report allegations of misconduct by their employees not only to law enforcement authorities but also to the State Board of Education to investigate.
Ford said, “That’s my bill. Well, I requested it. I’m kind of grumpy about that because the superintendent was in the Duncan Banner (newspaper) saying it is a ‘growing of government.’ ”
My first thought was that this came out of nowhere and escalated quickly. That’s not accurate, though. This has been brewing since June. Ford and Price are loyal to Barresi, and Loveless’s bill is a front for usurping power away from the elected state superintendent. Maybe I should start there.
The short description of the bill is that it allows “the State Board of Education to suspend or deny teacher certification upon certain findings.” It does more than that. You can read through the entire 20 page bill if you like, but the only changes to existing statute come on pages 8, 9 and 19. The bill adds new language to the role of the State Board of Education, taking the number of enumerated duties of the Board to 24. Here’s from pages 8-9, which pick up in a subsection discussing the revocation of a certificate from a teacher who has abused children:
b. the State Board of Education may take appropriate action, in accordance with Article II of the Administrative Procedures Act, to deny certification to and revoke or suspend the certification of any individual pursuant to the provisions of Section 1 of this act,
c. the State Board of Education may appoint, prescribe the duties, and fix the compensation of an investigator to assist the Board in the issuance, denial, revocation or suspension of certificates pursuant to the provisions of Section 1 of this act,
So the crux of SB 301 is that the Board gets to hire an investigator, set his or her salary, and allow him or her to investigate sex crimes. That’s what Hofmeister needs: a high-profile employee at the SDE who doesn’t work for her. Moreover, an employee whose job it is to accuse people of crimes.
But wait…there’s more! Yes, SB 301 goes on and on and on before adding one final paragraph of duties – section 24:
24. Have the authority to conduct investigations necessary to implement the provisions of this title.
Oh, so now the SBE will have the authority to conduct investigations over anything listed in sections 1-23. And they will do so with the help of an employee whom the state superintendent can’t control at all?
Brilliant! Even Amy Ford was happy when this bill passed the Senate:
How cute. She thinks SB 301 protects children. Or she thinks we think she thinks that. Or something. Apparently not everybody thinks they think that, however. Today, Sen. Loveless took to the editorial pages of the Oklahoman to defend his legislation:
We have seen its prevalence rise in the last several years, but more and more teachers are having inappropriate sexual relations with children under their care. Senate Bill 301 hopes to close a loophole that allows these predators to move from school district to school district without being caught.
Here is a far too familiar scenario: a teacher rapes a child, and both the teacher and student say it was consensual — even though it’s still legally rape and there are some cases where the victim is as young as 12. The school district and parents don’t want the public scrutiny so the district, parents of the victim and the predator agree that the perpetrator will no longer teach in that school district. Everyone agrees and the cover-up has begun.
The predator needs to keep working, so he or she moves to another school district that has no idea of the situation that led to the resignation; school districts can’t communicate with each other on personnel matters.
SB 301 would do several things to close this loophole. First, school districts would be required to report to the state Board of Education when a situation rises to begin an investigation. Secondly, the state board would have an investigator on staff to get to the bottom of allegations and make recommendations to the board regarding suspension or revocation of licenses. Finally, the board would then decide whether to turn over its investigation to the local district attorney’s office.
So many things are wrong with these four paragraphs. I’ve seen Sen. Loveless do this when talking about school consolidation on Twitter before. He makes wild assertions that can neither be proven nor disproven and then tries to engage detractors in an argument. Since you haven’t proven him wrong (other than the people who have caught him quoting highly flawed numbers), he wins! Isn’t that exciting for him?
Is this situation with students and teachers really common place? I hope not, but even if it is, the rest of his argument falls apart completely. Any school employee who suspects a child is being abused already has to report it to DHS. If we suspect a child is a victim of a crime, we already have to report it to law enforcement. If we fail to do this, we have already broken the law. Passing SB 301 doesn’t do anything new. It just makes the size of government bigger. More specifically, it gives the SBE a henchman.
They’ve already had one of those. And when he tried bullying a few superintendents during his brief tenure at the SDE, they found it ridiculous. As Rob Miller suggests, maybe the Board has the same guy in mind.
This is where it starts sounding like Indiana to me. For those of you who may not be familiar, in 2012, Indiana voters chose Democrat Glenda Ritz over incumbent Republican (and friend of Barresi) Tony Bennett. Since then, the governor and legislature have methodically stripped her of as much power as possible.
She put her name on the ballot in 2012, she campaigned and she won.
She won easily because many Hoosiers, whether you agreed with them or not, had grown tired of the way education policy was being conducted.
That’s apparently a pill that, for some, still won’t go down. And, so, Statehouse Republicans are intent on doing something, anything, to overturn as much as they can the impact of the last education superintendent’s election.
There they were on the fourth floor of the Statehouse this week, passing out of a Senate committee a bill that would essentially remove Ritz as chairwoman of the state Board of Education, a body that is made up of her and 10 members appointed by the governor.
It’s an adversarial, dysfunctional board if ever there was one. That much is true. But it’s also one that the voters created in 2012 when they elected both Glenda Ritz and Mike Pence. And while plenty of people are furious about the nonstop petty board fights — I know I am — few teachers, parents or other rank-and-file Hoosiers I’ve talked to see a political power play as the solution to the mess. (Actually, if a vote were held on this issue today, I’m fairly certain Ritz would win.)
Those pushing the measure to diminish Ritz’s power talk about their grievances with her administration’s policies and competence, and about the proven inability of the Board of Education to work out its problems. They talk about a troubling lack of communication and advancement on crucial issues, and the impact all of this will ultimately have on schools and students. Those are all fair points of discussion.
But at the core of this power grab is a lingering frustration with an election in 2012 that went in a surprising way.
I get the frustration. Nobody likes to lose. But ain’t that America? You win some, you lose some.
That’s exactly right. Barely more than two months after taking office, Hofmeister has to face a board that wants to work around her. If SB 301 becomes law, they might get their way.
The person who can stop this madness is Governor Mary Fallin. The Legislature – when the SBE bucked newly-elected Janet Barresi in 2011 – gave Fallin unilateral powers to replace any board member at any time. Maybe now is the time to use those powers. Or maybe the time was last summer when four members sued to have HB 3399 (which had recently been signed by Fallin) ruled unconstitutional. Two members basically disqualified themselves from continuing service when they stomped out of the room and told Hofmeister’s new chief of staff that they would block everything the elected state superintendent brings to them.
This state has important business that requires adults acting like adults. Having a pity party when the chips don’t fall your way doesn’t benefit children. Let’s focus on what matters. Don’t turn this into another Indiana.