Tulsa District 5: Must Karen Gilbert quit her day job with Tulsa Public Schools?

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I've received a couple of emails regarding Tulsa Public Schools policy 4401, regarding employees running for public office. The policy allows for employees to be granted a leave of absence to run for and serve in elective office. The question posed is whether District 5 candidate Karen Gilbert is required by the policy to have resigned in order to run for office, or if she will be forced to resign if she's elected.

Here's the text from the Tulsa Public Schools policy handbook:

TULSA PUBLIC SCHOOLS Policy 4401

EMPLOYEE PARTICIPATION IN POLITICAL ACTIVITIES

PURPOSE: To establish guidelines for employee political candidacy and office.

Any employee may be granted an unpaid leave of absence by the Superintendent or
designee for up to one year in order to become a candidate for public political office. The
grant or denial of the leave of absence to be a candidate will be made on a case-by-case
basis as the best interests of the District may dictate. If the employee candidate is
unsuccessful in the election, then the employee candidate must return to work within 30
days of the election or will be deemed to have resigned on that date.

If elected, the employee may return to employment after the initial term of office has expired.
If the employee elected to office does not return to work within 30 days of the expiration of
the initial term of office, then the employee will be deemed to have resigned on that date.

The employee will be reinstated at the entitled salary step/grade at the time the leave was
granted. The employee will be returned to a comparable position when a position becomes
available.

A leave of absence for the purpose of seeking political office, or for holding office, will be
arranged between the individual and the District administration within the framework of
District regulations and law.

Employee candidates engaging in political activity will make it clear their statements and
actions are their own as individuals and they in no manner represent the views of the
District.

Employee candidates will not engage in campaign activity on District premises during
instructional hours or at any time that is disruptive to an educational activity.

Any employee seeking a leave of absence under this policy will apply for such leave in
writing in the usual manner and will receive a reply in writing.

As I read this, it doesn't seem to require a leave of absence, but it allows for one. An employee seeking a post as a state legislator would have to take leave in order to serve in Oklahoma City. Serving as a city councilor and working full time for the school district would be challenging, but wouldn't necessarily involve giving up the day job. Gilbert would have to skip all the Tuesday morning committee meetings in order to keep her job, but it would be up to District 5 voters to decide if it's acceptable for their councilor only to show up on Thursday nights.

That said, there may be a state law forbidding a public employee to serve as an elected official, but if so, I would have expected the policy to cite the legislation.

Either way, there is yet another conflict of interest for Karen Gilbert if she wins and keeps her school district job. It's often overlooked, particularly by midtowners, that the City of Tulsa is bigger than TPS -- the city limits include portions of Jenks, Union, Broken Arrow, and Catoosa school districts. Nearly 30% (29.4% to be precise) of the city's under-18 population live outside the TPS boundaries. There's great potential for new residential growth in the Broken Arrow and Catoosa school district portions of Tulsa, allowing families to choose both City of Tulsa amenities and suburban schools.

An example of this blind spot: The education plank of the Tulsa Metro Chamber's election manifesto mentions only Tulsa Public Schools and makes no mention of the important role played by the other public school districts, private schools, and Tulsa's robust and growing homeschool community.

Encouraging families to remain in or return to central Tulsa would be easier with greater charter school capacity and vouchers for school choice, measures that the Tulsa Public School board has historically opposed, to the point of suing the state over the charter school law. Within the TPS boundaries, the ratio of enrollment to the under-18 population is 60%, the lowest of any school district overlapping or bordering Tulsa. (Sperry is highest at 86%, followed by Sand Springs and Collinsville at 80%, Union, Catoosa, and Owasso at 70%, Jenks at 65%, and Broken Arrow at 63%.)

Children outside of the TPS system, whether in charter schools, suburban public schools, private school, or homeschool, matter a great deal to the City of Tulsa's future growth.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 12, 2011 1:13 AM.

Tulsa District 3 Democratic primary: For Roscoe Turner was the previous entry in this blog.

Tulsa Election 2011: Progress report is the next entry in this blog.

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