Lois Jacobs for Tulsa school board

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This is encouraging news: Both Tulsa school board incumbents have drawn opponents for re-election. All too often school board members are returned to office with little if any scrutiny of their service. The election is this Tuesday, February 9, 2010. Because both seats drew only two candidates, there's no need to hold a runoff in April.

There's a clear choice in the District 7 election, where Lois Jacobs is challenging incumbent Matt Livingood.

Matt Livingood, 58, a Democrat and an attorney, was the ringleader pushing for the board's lawsuit against the state's charter school law, a fruitless and expensive attack on expanded educational opportunities for Tulsa's schoolchildren. For that reason alone, Livingood should be turned out of office.

Lois Jacobs, 58, a Republican and a dentist, supports expanding charter schools -- publicly funded, but independently operated schools -- in the Tulsa district. Jacobs advocates a focus on classroom performance and reductions in the district's administrative overhead. Jacobs supports cutting administrator pay, saying that "no one in education should be making more than the governor." She also supports cutting travel by administrators. She opposes a school bond issue that would raise property taxes.

During the 2008 campaign cycle, Jacobs contributed to Republican presidential candidates Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo. Federal donor records for Livingood shows a small contribution to Doug Dodd for Congress in 2002. (Neither Anna America nor Bobbie Gray show up in the opensecrets.org database of contributions to federal candidates.)

The lawsuit cost Tulsa Public Schools over $100,000 in legal fees alone. When the board voted not to appeal a court ruling against their suit, Superintendent Keith Ballard hinted that the Tulsa district's apparent hostility to charter schools could cost TPS both private and federal grant money:

Superintendent Keith Ballard said: "The only thing I've ever said is that we are involved in several exciting ventures -- including (a new partnership with) Teach for America and (being selected as a grant finalist by the) Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and traditionally these organizations have been supportive of charters.

"Also, President Obama and (U.S. Secretary of Education) Arne Duncan have made it clear that they support charter schools, and they control a lot of (stimulus package) money, and we are involved in a race for the top money. I've said that this could enter into it, and I think that's an accurate statement."

When the Oklahoma Legislature passed a law in 2007 allowing universities to sponsor charter schools, they tried to address the constitutional concerns that lawsuit backers claimed as motivation for the suit, but the legislature's effort was greeted with more lawsuit threats:

"I'm extremely disappointed in the Tulsa school board for challenging this bill, especially since it helps address the constitutional concerns that they raised last year," said Rep. Tad Jones, R-Claremore, who chairs the House Education Committee.

Jones said HB 1589 was written in response to constitutional questions that were raised by the Tulsa school board about the state's original charter school law. The bill reduced the number of counties where new charter schools could open to just Oklahoma and Tulsa counties, but added universities to the list of entities that could sponsor charter schools.

Rep. Jabar Shumate, who represents portions of north Tulsa, echoed Jones' sentiments, saying, "A lawsuit on an issue like this would be a colossal waste of money. Instead of money going toward helping our failing north Tulsa schools, they want to put the money in the pockets of attorneys. Once again, it's our students who lose out."

Shumate believes that the new charter schools law seems to be constitutional. "There are many laws on the books with population restrictions, and that's all were talking about with this charter schools law," he said. "And those laws have been upheld by the state Supreme Court."

Bobbie Gray, 58, a Republican, is the other incumbent on Tuesday's ballot. Gray also supported the lawsuit attacking charter schools. Her vote to end the suit was reluctant:

During Monday's meeting, board member Bobbie Gray said she believed in the principles behind the lawsuit and was disappointed that the board had to end it.

"I believe that by continuing with this lawsuit, that not only are we jeopardizing any future relationships that we have with our Legislature -- because they don't understand what this is -- but any opportunities that may be coming to the children of this district," Gray said.

Thanks in part to Gray and Livingood, Tulsa lags far behind Oklahoma City in offering educational choices. Oklahoma City has 14 charter schools; Tulsa has 4.

Gray was previously a member of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, where she was a predictable vote on the wrong side of controversial issues. Bobbie Gray also signed the recall petition to oust District 6 City Councilor Jim Mautino. (Her full name is Roberta A. Gray.)

There are good reasons to retire Bobbie Gray after 14 years on the school board. But don't think that a vote for Anna America (46, a Democrat) is a vote for the kind of reform that the Tulsa district needs.

Now, I like Anna America and her husband, Metropolitan Environmental Trust director Michael Patton. I've interacted with them in the civic sphere over the last 10 years. Anna would bring a perspective to the school board, that (as far as I know) is currently lacking -- she has children currently enrolled in TPS, both at Eisenhower International School. She expresses support for charter schools.

But in the years I've known her, I've never seen Anna America take a stand against the status quo and the local establishment. And for all the commentary on her campaign website, she has nothing to say about the heart of TPS's problems -- curriculum, educational philosophy, and classroom discipline.

Tulsa's children need a structured learning environment and a solid foundation at the elementary level in basic knowledge and skills. Decades of dabbling in educational fads (often driven by curriculum vendors looking to boost sales) have made TPS a district where smart kids with involved parents do OK, but kids without those advantages get left behind. There was a time in our nation's history when public schools provided every student, even those from rotten home situations, with a solid, basic education in an orderly atmosphere. To find that kind of environment today, you have to go to charter schools or private schools. No amount of money or technology can compensate for a defective educational philosophy.

Steven Roemerman received an e-mail last week from Susan Harris of the Tulsa Metro Chamber, noting that former Mayor Kathy Taylor was trying to raise last-minute funds for Anna America. The e-mail also provided brief details of how to give to Matt Livingood and Bobbie Gray, but nothing was said about Lois Jacobs. The clear focus of the e-mail was getting Anna America elected.

MORE:

The Tulsa World, generally supportive of the "throw more money at the problem" approach to educational improvement, has endorsed Livingood and America.

The Tulsa Beacon has endorsed Lois Jacobs, but made no endorsement in the America/Gray race. Here is the Beacon's story on the two school board races.

The Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association, the union local affiliate of the left-wing National Educational Association and Oklahoma Educational Association, endorsed Livingood but made no endorsement in the Gray/America race, saying "we were very impressed with both" candidates.

OK-SAFE sent a questionnaire to all the candidates. Jacobs and Livingood responded; America and Gray did not.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: In January 2007, Jamie Pierson, a graduate of the Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences (a charter high school), responded in her Urban Tulsa Weekly column to the Tulsa School Board vote to place a moratorium on the creation of new charter schools or the expansion of existing charter schools.

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10 Comments

recyclemichael said:

I hope my wife wins this race and then has an opportunity to earn your trust to show that she is in favor of many of the things you are.

I completely agree with your assessment of her opponent. I am surprised that her history of opposing many of the people and things you believe in were not enough for Anna to earn your endorsement.

The election is tomorrow and this weather will probably damper an already expected low turnout.

The A Team said:

Anna America also was on Kathy Taylor's staff and she is a former Tulsa World reporter.

mark said:

Michael -

As a parent with two kids in a TPS neighborhood elementary school, I can attest to the accuracy of your statement that "smart kids with involved parents do OK, but kids without those advantages get left behind." Actually, TPS kids with active and responsible parents or guardians can do MUCH BETTER than "OK" in the right programs with the right teachers.

You also accurately observe that "there was a time in our nation's history when public schools provided every student, even those from rotten home situations, with a solid, basic education in an orderly atmosphere." But the implication of that statement is that something in the educational philosophy must be wrong if kids from today's "rotten homes" are not similarly "orderly".

What you miss, I believe, is that today's "rotten" is a whole lot rotten-er than even a generation ago. Even 35 yrs ago, when I was a TPS junior higher, most all kids came to school with a basic respect for authority, and thus teachers could maintain order. The bad kids were terrors in the halls and outside the building, but classrooms were generally calm, learning environments. The same cannot be said today - our culture has eroded to the point that parents (if present) are even encouraging classroom defiance.

As far as tomorrow's election goes, I live outside these districts, so won't be voting. But they are important contests for TPS.

I agree that Jacobs seems the better choice for District 7, for the reasons you outline.

As for District 4, it sounds as though Gray stands, and has stood for quite sometime, against principles near and dear to your heart (and mine), both in the educational and land use realms. Why then withhold an endorsement from her opponent who, as you put it, "expresses support for charter schools"? Is it principally because she has yet to "take a stand against the status quo and the local establishment"? Has she had an opportunity to do that and declined?

I certainly agree that a willingness to buck the system, and bite the hand that feeds you is an important trait in a public servant, but I can't help but wonder here if your withholding of an endorsement reflects some of your own (understandable) reluctance to "take a stand against the status quo and the local [Republican Party] establishment"?

I hope I'm wrong, and trust that you'll correct me if I am, but it occurs to me that the Barnes endorsement might be your quota for the year.

Sorry for the length of this ramble.

Tim D said:

how and where can I vote on this?

Can I even vote on this?

Anna has her own history of opposing "people and things [I] believe in" (including me) so that's kind of a wash.

If Anna wins, I'll be happy to be pleasantly surprised by her performance in office.

Weather not withstanding -- and it may not be as bad as we'd feared -- given that both candidates in each race have been actively campaigning, I'm expecting a higher than usual turnout.

Mark, I wasn't even aware that Bobbie Gray was a Republican until I checked the voter registration database while putting this piece together. For all the years I've been actively involved in the local party organization, I've never seen her involved in any way.

You make a good point about the culture and the lack of respect for authority, but I read about schools in rough neighborhoods around the country with students who have uninvolved or even hostile parents, and yet these schools manage to create an oasis of order in the chaos of these students' lives.

As for my reluctance to endorse Anna America, see my response to her husband above. I'm pleased she professes support for charter schools now, but I don't recall her speaking out when the board placed a moratorium on their growth and approved lawsuits seeking to nullify the law that authorizes their existence.

Actually, The A Team, I believe she wrote for the late lamented Tulsa Tribune.

Tim, here is a PDF map of Tulsa School Board District 7 and here's a PDF map of Tulsa School Board District 4. District 4 is mainly east of Memorial and north of 31st (not including Layman Van Acres). District 7 is the southern edge of the Tulsa schools territory -- most everything south of 51st St, plus the Patrick Henry subdivision.

recyclemichael said:

It appears my wife has won.

The turnout was under 600 votes.

Congratulations!

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on February 7, 2010 11:33 PM.

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