By September 24, 2014 Uncategorized 2 Comments

Can the leadership of the Oklahoma State Department of Education get any more inept, incompetent, or unethical?

Of course, this is clearly a rhetorical question. As long as Dr. Janet Barresi is in charge of the department, anything can happen.

Earlier today, the Tulsa World reported that the OSDE will be asking for Board approval tomorrow to rehire CTB/McGraw-Hill for a “sole source” — or no-bid — contract for the 2014 winter testing window. If you recall, two months ago, at the Superintendent’s urging, the Board voted to fire CTB because of two consecutive years of testing problems.

Apparently someone at the state department forgot about the winter EOI testing administration and failed to take any steps to gain a different testing vendor for these assessments. I’m curious as to who got to make that call to the CTB offices?

I’m guessing the conversation went something like this:

“Hey, this is _____ from the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

Remember that funny thing that happened back in July? Yeah, that’s it–when our state superintendent called you incompetent and fired you at a state board meeting (nervous laughter).

Well, I hope there are no hard feelings because, you know, on second thought, maybe we were a little hasty. You see, Janet had just suffered a humiliating loss in the primary election. I mean it was really bad. She spent over one million dollars of her own money and came in third to a guy who didn’t even campaign. Kinda funny if you ask me! But, hey, don’t tell her I said that, she would have my head on a platter.  I AM being serious!

Anyhow, what I was trying to communicate was that Janet was a tad pissed off when she made this decision. I take that back–she was a LOT pissed off and she needed a sacrificial lamb to satisfy her blood lust.  You can understand that, right? The bottom line is I realize you may still be upset at us for breaking our contract, but, would you consider helping us out just one more time?

Why are you laughing, that’s not nice!? No, don’t hang up. We need you!

What do you mean it’s going to cost us big time? How much? 2.8 million dollars? Holy crap, that seems pretty high. Would you do it for less?  I’m sorry, did you just say, “take the offer or kiss our ass?”

In that case, I suppose you have a deal!

You read that correctly. According to state sources, CTB will be paid a cool $2.8 million dollars to administer about 51,000 winter tests, or about $55 per assessment. Not too bad for a test you have already administered (poorly at that) for several years using the same test items and testing platform.

When asked about the deal, State Department Chief of Staff, Joel Robison, said, “No one in this building is happy. This was not our first choice. We tried to make it abundantly clear how frustrated we have been working with McGraw-Hill the past couple of years.” “This is not an ongoing relationship here. This is a short-term, one-cycle testing contract.”

It sounds like one of those ugly on-again, off-again romances you see on TV. “I can’t stand you, but are you available for dinner and maybe some ‘action’ afterwards?” I sure hope we don’t regret this in the morning!

Anyhow, testing SNAFU’s have become fairly routine with this current SDE.

The second story out of the department today was even more outrageous. Today’s press release from Phil Bacharach confirmed rumors that had been circulated for the past few weeks about Barresi’s hiring of Kim Richey’s husband, Dr. Larry Birney. In an obvious case of cronyism, Barresi created a new position of assistant superintendent for accreditation and compliance and appointed Birney to the position at a base salary of $90K per year.

Understand that Dr. Birney has never taught a day in a public school or served as a school accreditation officer anytime or anywhere. Yet, now he is now in charge of the state’s entire accreditation division. Here is the official press release:

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.

Dr. Birney and Ms. Richey apparently met while they both worked at the Oklahoma CLEET headquarters in Ada. According to Barresi, Dr. Birney “retired” from his post as director in May 2011, with Kim’s departure following just a few months later. She was introduced to the state school board as the new general counsel during the September 27, 2011 board meeting.

Apparently, during their time at CLEET, Ms. Richey spent quite a few weekends with Birney (sorry, I couldn’t resist), and they were married in Santa Fe, New Mexico on October 22, 2011.

I recognize that you cannot believe everything you read online, but there are several stories out there that imply that there may be more to the story relative to Dr. Birney’s departure from his position at CLEET.

A few months before his quick departure, Dr. Birney was allegedly arrested for a road rage incident in Edmond where he brandished a weapon at a motorist. However, the apprehension did not lead to an official arrest record or criminal charges. Some people in authority (including the OKC District Attorney) may or may not have cleaned things up. Yet, according to unofficial, unverified reports, Birney was facing an internal investigation from CLEET over his actions and chose to resign before the results were released.

I honestly don’t know if any of this information is true. You can search online, read the various articles, and make your own conclusions.

Dr. Birney may be an outstanding individual and dedicated public servant who was falsely implicated in an incident that was blown out of proportion. Things like this have happened before.

My issue is that he has no business serving as an assistant superintendent of our state department of education. I doubt very much that this position would have been offered to him if not for his direct relationship with the SDE general counsel.

Dr. Barresi even alludes to the fact that he had previously applied to serve as a regional accreditation officer. Ostensibly, he was not hired by former accreditation executive director, Lynn Jones, because he had no qualifications for the job.

So, what did Barresi do? She created a new assistant superintendent position (at a cost of $100K), hired Dr. Birney to the position as Lynn’s boss, and told her to train him. To her credit, Ms. Jones said “no thanks” (or something like that) and tendered her resignation. This is very similar to what happened last spring when Wes Bruce was hired over OSDE Assessment Director, Dr. Maridyth McBee, prompting her unexpected retirement from the department one month before spring testing.

So, here we are three months before a new state superintendent takes office, and Dr. Barresi is chasing away well-qualified, experienced state department leaders for no real reason other than blatant cronyism. I’m not sure how nepotism rules work for state agencies, but my school district’s policy does not allow me to hire the spouse of any current employee in my building, even if they would work in different capacities and not be in the same chain of supervision.

This just smells bad. I would hope that the state board of education will be asking some serious questions and that an appropriate ethics investigation is conducted.

Nonetheless, if I were Dr. Birney, I’m not sure I would unpack too many boxes and get all that comfortable in my new office. Even if Larry is able to keep his job until January, I suspect he will be mailing out resumes soon after the arrival of the new superintendent.

I think there will quite a few others needing boxes as well. This is probably a good thing. I hope we can all make it until then.

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