I spent a week in John Marshall High School last month, and my story about my time there ran April 15. (Click here to read it.) After spending so much time covering a story, reporters always lament that there are things left out. There are a couple of anecdotes I wished I could have fit in, but there had to be room left in the Sunday paper for the comies and the crossword. I was already way – way! – over my limit. So I’m going to share two of those little asides here. To me, they really illustrate the humor that Principal Aspasia Carlson uses with her kiddos.
Students milled around the breakfast tables, eating particularly slowly. One boy claimed he was eating breakfast late because he slept in.
“Do I need to call your mom?” Carlson asked him. He smiled when he knew he was caught. “What’s your number?” Carlson said. “I’ll call and wake you up.”
And one more …
Carlson came out of her office to find a boy slouching in a chair next to the copier.
“OK, I just heard the bell ring,” she said. “Where are you supposed to be?”
“I’m getting my transcript so I can go to college,” he said with a grin.
Carlson laughs. “OK,” she admits, “that’s allowed.”
Auditors have discovered three secret banks accounts used by the state Education Department. Check back to NewsOK.com for more as this develops. Here’s the auditor’s press release for now:
OKLAHOMA CITY – State Auditor Gary Jones released a supplemental investigative report today requested by the Oklahoma State Department of Education.
This supplemental investigative report follows an initial special audit report released January 4, 2012, which reviewed travel claims by a former state education department official.
“Superintendent Janet Barresi and the state School Board originally asked for a special audit regarding some suspicious travel claims by a former employee,” said State Auditor Gary Jones. “Information came to light during that investigation that suggested a much bigger problem had existed at the State Department of Education.
“We brought the information to the attention of Superintendent Barresi and requested permission to continue to investigate the existence of a previously unknown bank account,” Jones said. “We appreciate her full support and assistance in this matter.”
During the course of this limited investigation, the State Auditor became aware of three unauthorized, previously unknown bank accounts that were utilized as a slush fund to spend more than $2.3 million over a 10-year period. The use of these accounts allowed former State Education Department Officials to issue payments shielded from government oversight as well as public scrutiny.
SAI investigators spent many hours reviewing documents and conducting interviews during the course of this investigation.
The supplemental investigative report is available at the State Auditor’s website, www.sai.ok.gov
OKLAHOMA CITY – Now that many lawmakers are calling for a freeze on judicial pay and the salaries of all statewide officeholders, state Rep. Jason Nelson said it’s time to also freeze school superintendent salaries.
“Last year we saw hundreds of instances of superintendents getting pay raises while furloughing teachers and increasing class sizes,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “If it doesn’t make sense to give statewide officeholders a pay raise while Oklahoma is climbing out of recession, the same thing holds true for school superintendents at a time when education budgets have been cut. They should not be getting pay raises when teachers are being asked to do more with less.”
In a recent report, Oklahoma Watchdog found that 356 Oklahoma district superintendents (more than two-thirds) received some form of compensation increase this year. The combined expense of those raises was an extra $1.4 million annually.
Oklahoma Watchdog found that 37 of the superintendents receiving raises oversaw districts placed on the State Department of Education’s “Needs Improvement” list and 16 of those individuals received raises of $5,000 or more .
The Board of Judicial Compensation recently recommended pay increases for judges. Since the compensation of judges and statewide officials is linked, both would get a raise under that proposal.
State Rep. Scott Inman, leader of the House Democratic caucus, has been one of the most vocal critics of potential pay increases for statewide officeholders even though none of those officials could receive a salary increase during their current term in office.
Nelson said the Del City lawmaker should now join him in opposing superintendent pay raises.
“To protect school funding, we have to do more than oppose phantom pay raises that no current statewide officeholder is eligible to receive,” Nelson said. “It is ridiculous to complain about phantom pay raises for current statewide elected officials while ignoring $1.4 million in real pay raises for superintendents across the state.”
Last year, Nelson filed House Bill 1746 to require schools to spend at least 65 percent of funds on direct instructional activities within three years.
That bill included a provision that would have prevented superintendents from furloughing teachers without first having their financial plan reviewed by the State Board of Education so that classroom teachers would be protected.
“My legislation would have protected teachers from layoffs and furloughs, yet it was opposed by superintendents and their allies, including Representative Inman,” Nelson said. “I hope he and other opponents will now join me in standing up for teachers.”
Nelson praised State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi, who announced she would not accept a pay raise when the issue was first raised this month.
“Superintendent Barresi did the right thing for Oklahoma students,” Nelson said. “Given that many local school superintendents are paid more than the governor or state superintendent, there is clearly no reason for local administrators to get a pay raise at the expense of teachers and classroom funding. It’s time to freeze superintendent pay.”
The $10.5 million school is scheduled to open by 2010. It is expected to help ease overcrowding on the district’s west side.
The 64,948-square-foot building will house about 520 students in prekindergarten through second grade. The new school will be paid for with 2007 bond money.
-PERSONAL LOOK AT DISTRICT LAYOFFS: More than 60 central office employees in the Dallas school district were shown the door at the start of this week, and more cuts – including teachers - could be on the way later today as officials try to remedy an $84 million budget shortfall. Here’s a view on the situation from Donald Claxton, who briefly headed the communications department at Oklahoma City Public Schools under former Superintendent John Porter after working in the Dallas district.
-BOYCOTT MOVES TO THE BALL FIELD: An Illinois state senator from Chicago took his stab at school funding reform to last night’s playoff game between the Cubs and the Dodgers last night. Sen. James Meeks also led a student boycott of lower performing schools at the start of the year.
-CONFUSING STUDENT ASSESSMENTS: This Washington Post story talks about a literacy program’s assessments that start on a seemingly arbitrary scale of 2 to 16 and then switch to the letters J through P. I’m not questioning the scale or the program there, but the article did make me think about whether parents can always understand how their students are evaluated.
I blogged yesterday about the role public comments play at school board meetings. Today I’m following up with an answer for Kandis, who commented on the entry to ask for a defined purpose of a school board.
To answer her question, I called Jeff Mills, the new executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.
I’ll start with his response about what a school board is: a local governing body of a school district whose members are either elected or appointed to represent the public. Now on to what they do.
“One of their main functions is to hire a superintendent or a CEO to run that organization. … Their other major responsibility is setting policy,” Mills told me.
He went on to explain: “If I’m a superintendent, I can set a directive or I can set an interoffice activity, but the board is responsible to set legal and legislative type policy to manage the district. … A school board wouldn’t necessarily be involved in the day-to-day operations — that’s what the superintendent or CEO is for.”
Now if you’re wondering just what types of policies he’s referring to, don’t worry, he elaborated. Such policy responsibilities can include everything from school safety to budgeting and expenditures, he said.
Oklahoma City School Board meeting, Sept. 2, 2008 / By Wendy K. Kleinman, The Oklahoman
Mills also talked about the public comments issue that started this conversation.
“There are public participation policies out there, and some of those may limit (comments) to three minutes or so — each one will vary — and they may limit the number of people who may speak on one topic,” Mills said, “for the simple reason that if you have no order you could be there all night.”
UPDATE: To answer a question this entry prompted, school board members’ phone numbers and addresses, at least for Oklahoma City Public Schools, are available to the public. They are listed on this site.
Keep the comments and questions coming!
I got word of the following story from a fellow reporter in Oregon:
The Register-Guard newspaper published an interesting profile today on Thomas Payzant, who led the Oklahoma City School District from 1979 to 1982. Payzant recently visited Eugene, Oregon, where he was a superintendent before coming to the Sooner State. He’s now a professor at Harvard University.
Education Week recently posted an interesting commentary on school leadership, separating principals of struggling schools into “copers” and “transformers.”
Those in the “copers” camp are struggling, too, overwhelmed by the challenges they face in straightening out their school. Those in the “transformers” camp have a vision and a plan to get it accomplished.
You can read the full article here.
Then share: Which camp does your school principal fall into? Can a “coper” be changed into a “transformer,” and might “transformers” be jaded over time into “copers?” And does it affect student performance?
Oklahoma’s two largest school districts both will have new superintendents by the end of the calendar year.
Last night, the Tulsa School Board voted to offer a contract to Keith Ballard to take the place of Michael Zolkoski.
But some people in the district are disgruntled over the process, or what they say is a lack thereof, that led to his selection. (The board brought up the possibility of hiring Ballard the same day it agreed to part ways with Zolkoski.)
When the Oklahoma City School District was faced earlier this year with a similar situation — hiring a new leader after the old one departed before the end of his contract — it took a different approach of soliciting community feedback first.
The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools held meetings and compiled a report with patron suggestions.
How about some more feedback now that it’s over?
Do you think that input sincerely influenced the Oklahoma City School Board’s decision to hire Karl Springer this summer? Do you think Tulsa should have taken the same route as Oklahoma City?
Share your thoughts on the superintendent selection processes here.
During each school board meeting, Springer wants time set aside for a “superintendent’s report” – which he says he’ll use to tell the public about what he’s been doing around the district. Springer said he requested this time and received unanimous support from the board members.
“We need to be transparent,” Springer said, during his first report to the board. “We want to cause everybody to rally around the students. . . My politics, my agenda is to make sure every child gets a quality education.”
School board chairman Al Basey applauded Springer’s work during his first six days in the superintendent’s role, calling him “the greatest advocate of employees and kids we’ve ever had in our district.”
As Springer was introduced during the meeting, he received a lively applause from parents and community members in the audience.
Springer appeared enthused about his new role – describing with excitement the various things he’s done during his brief time with the district: media interviews, visits to schools and speaking at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
As several parents and family members of Classen SAS students spoke about the administration issues at the school, Springer sat attentively and seemed interested and responsive in the parents’ feedback.