What Will the Governor do about “Janet’s Board?”

By miller727@icloud.com March 27, 2015 Uncategorized 6 Comments

In case you missed it, there was a bit of a kerfuffle at today’s State Board of Education Meeting. Here is the story as reported earlier tonight by Tulsa World Education Writer, Andrea Eger:

Conflict between board of education members, Superintendent Joy Hofmeister erupts during meeting

OKLAHOMA CITY — A behind-the-scenes tug of war between the state board of education and State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister boiled over at a public meeting Thursday.

At issue is the board members’ ability to add items for consideration to the board meeting agendas. Members say they need that ability in order to hire their own secretary and to consider a resolution of support for a pending piece of legislation that one board member requested but Hofmeister has publicly opposed.

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.’ ”

Ford said she also supports Price’s proposal because Hofmeister has rebuffed their attempts to vote on the hiring of a new board secretary.

“Under the previous administration, we got phone calls from the superintendent. Routinely we were discussing important agenda items. She would schedule briefings in advance — we would spend hours at the department. Now, we’re getting zero communication out of this department,” Ford said. “I expected a level of respect to our commitment. There is no respect here.”

Asked to comment about the disputes, Hofmeister said she has been trying to keep the board meetings moving at a faster clip in response to members’ concerns about the length of the sessions, which have routinely run three to four hours.

“Board members are given the draft agenda eight to 10 days prior to the meeting to facilitate any agenda requests,” Hofmeister said. “No board member contacted me to request anything to be added to this agenda. Therefore, I was somewhat surprised by the outburst. That procedure has worked for decades.”

As for the hiring of a new board secretary to replace one who resigned in the fall, Hofmeister said no applicants to date have had experience working with a board and she considers that critical given that the secretary is an employee shared by three state boards — common education, CareerTech and the Teacher Leader Effectiveness Commission.

“The board is well cared for with their long-serving assistant board secretary of more than 20 years,” Hofmeister said. “It has been only two months and a week since I was inaugurated, so there is a transition taking place. I recognize that each one of these board members served under my predecessor, yet I am confident they serve the students of Oklahoma first, just as I do, and we will get through this transition.”

Kind of brings you back in time, doesn’t it? I’m sure you recall the initial board meeting of Janet Barresi four years ago–the one where a board member made an inappropriate comment about a pregnant member of Janet’s staff, calling her “worthless,” while another board member referred to Barresi as a “dictator.” We had hoped those kind of fireworks were in the past. Apparently not.

To demonstrate her support for the new state superintendent in 2011, Governor Fallin pushed for new legislation which allowed her to replace these members and give Janet a shiny new school board of her own.

I wonder if Mary will do the same thing this time around.

What does seem apparent from today’s discourse is that some members of “Janet’s board” are still experiencing hard feelings over the loss of their beloved leader. In particular, board members Amy Ford and Bill Price appear to have an axe to grind with the new head of the state department.

Ostensibly, they are upset because they are no longer getting their way. And with all the tact and maturity of an average thirteen-year-old, they have threatened to take their ball and go home until Joy gives them what they want. “Uniformly vote down every issue” was the exact phrase used by Ms. Ford and concurred with by Mr. Price. This is nothing more than bullying by board members to try to get Ms. Hofmeister to relinquish to their demands.

And, what exactly are those demands?

From the article, a few board members feel like they should be the ones who set the agenda for these public meetings, which would be a rather unusual precedent for state boards. The reason they give is because “they want to have the ability in order to hire their own secretary and to consider a resolution of support for a pending piece of legislation that one board member requested.”

Most people are unaware that the Board removed the previous Board secretary, Connie Holland, in December, a month before Hofmeister’s inauguration. The rumor is that Ms. Ford already had a replacement in mind at that time. A person who just happened to be a close friend and in need of a job. I suspect that Ms. Hofmeister was also aware of this speculation and put the brakes on that assignment. And that possibly ticked Amy off a little.

The next issue surrounds the passage of Senate Bill 301. As detailed in Andrea Eger’s story above, if passed, 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. Ms. Ford personally recruited State Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City, to run this bill on her behalf.

The legislation would enable the state board to hire its own investigator to conduct their own independent inquiries, above and beyond any others conducted by Regional Accreditation Officers (RAOs), regular law enforcement agencies, and local district attorneys.

Admittedly, I am now climbing out on a limb at the very top of the tree of speculation, but I wonder who the board has in mind for this new position.

Mr. Price gave a clue to the possible identity when he answered a question from Hofmeister’s new Chief of Staff, Lance Nelson, relative to “what the qualifications for this position” would be.

Mr. Price responded by saying that the new position would be someone “CLEET-certified.” CLEET stands for the Oklahoma Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training.

Hmmm, who do I know that used to be with CLEET? In fact, I believe he was the Director of CLEET in our state, at least until he had to resign his position after a questionable road rage incident a few years back? What was that guy’s name?

Oh yeah, I remember. It was Dr. Larry Birney, husband of OSDE General Counsel, Kim Richey, who Barresi hired last fall to fill her newly created position as assistant state superintendent for accreditation and compliance. This blatant act of nepotism and cronyism prompted calls for Janet’s resignation from Senator Jason Smalley and Board Member Lee Baxter at the September board meeting.

Janet did not, but Larry did, just minutes before Ms. Hofmeister’s inauguration in January.

So, is it possible that Ms. Ford might be working with Ms. Richey to find a new job for her husband as well as her friend? A job that would allow Birney to use his vast investigatory skills and tenacity to go after school districts at the whim of the state school board. Again, this is idle speculation, but it is not entirely out of the realm of possibilities. People do talk. This rumor was already circulating before you read it here.

Anyhow, there is obviously a back story here that remains to be told. Further investigation is certainly warranted.

The big question for me at this point is what will Governor Fallin do?

Since the legislature passed rules four years ago that allow her to appoint members at will, will she remove these malcontents and allow Hofmeister to have a say in who her board members will be?

Or, on the other hand, will the Governor stay loyal to “Janet’s Board” and be complicit in their obstruction of the people’s will— the voters who elected Hofmeister to clean up a major mess left by her predecessor and restore sanity to the leadership of the state department.

For starters, Lee Baxter and Bill Price will almost certainly be reconfirmed by the Senate next week if their names remain on the Governor’s appointment list. I believe she can remove one or both of the names if she wishes. But…does Mary wish?

Things may get interesting in the next few days.

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