Tulsa Education: February 2010 Archives

Note: Reader Mike comments, "FYI, Ballots are out of sync with the school board's proposal PDF explanation. Side 2 (ballot back side) lists Question/Proposition #3 as Transportation and Question/Proposition #4 as Textbooks, Materials & Technology." I've corrected the order below to reflect the ballot proposition numbers.

This Tuesday, Tulsa Public Schools taxpayers will vote on a massive $354 million bond issue (click for an unwieldy PDF of the proposal), organized into four questions:

  1. Building Facilities Construction and Repairs: $261,415,000
  2. Library Books, Learning Materials and Building Additions: $19,600,000
  3. Transportation: $11,695,000
  4. Textbooks, Classroom Learning Materials and Technology: $61,290,000

I plan to vote against proposition 1 (facilities) and for the other three (libraries, classroom, transportation).

Although passage of the bond issue won't raise the overall millage, TPS still has an obligation to focus any bond issue on necessities. But a full fifth of Proposition 1 ($52,460,000) is devoted to athletic facilities -- stadium press box upgrades, all weather tracks and track re-surfacing, locker and weight room improvements, artificial turf, and a whopping $30 million for new field houses for Washington, Edison, and Memorial High School. Spending this kind of money on athletic facilities in this bond issue means deferring repairs, renovations, and expansions that serve the core function of the school system. Most of the proposed athletic facility improvements are the sort of thing that used to be funded by alumni, local businesses, and booster clubs.

Another reason to vote no -- a reason that applies to the entire bond package -- is the enormous percentage of the package designated for "Professional Services/Bond Management Fee" -- a grand total of $11,071,000, more than 3% of the total bond package. I have this sneaking suspicion (although I can't verify it) that the professional services and bond management that will be funded with this $11 million won't be competitively bid.

The bond package includes materials and projects that look like operating expenses to me, not capital equipment, and many of the numbers seem randomly selected -- e.g. $15,000 per high school for PE and health education equipment. Why not $10,000 or $20,000? It doesn't seem to be based on specific needs.

The following line item is almost enough to make me vote against the classroom materials proposition:

21st Century Classroom Teaching Equipment $6,661,800

Funds will be used to provide equitable access to quality learning tools, technologies, and resources to create learning environments and teaching practices that will equip all students with 21st Century skils. To meet the diverse learning needs of today's students, classrooms will be equipped with technological tools that include electronic whiteboards, sound enhancement, video systems, and other technologies to create interactive learning environments, enabling students to learn in a relevant, real world context. These new technologies will support an expanded community and global involvement in learning, both face-to-face with classroom teachers, as well as online with learning communities, preparing our students for a highly competitive and collaborative world.

I see every week what Augustine Christian Academy manages to accomplish with plain ol' whiteboards, donated, slightly out-of-date computer equipment, and per-pupil expenditures less than half that of the state public school system. ACA doesn't have much in the way of classroom technology, but they do have caring teachers, orderly classrooms, and a focus on the essentials of knowledge. Electronic whiteboards may be fun to play with, may have some marginal instructional value, but they aren't going to "prepar[e] our students for a highly competitive and collaborative world." With all this technology and no change in TPS's educational philosophy, TPS will continue to turn out graduating seniors who are less prepared for success in the world than my tenant farmer grandpa was when he finished 8th grade in 1931.

There are signs of bloat all over this bond package. It's telling that you never see a breakdown of each category of spending to the level of items that one could buy at retail. As we've seen with the State Auditor's investigation of the Skiatook school district, it's easy to hide big commissions and markups in an aggregate number. It's only when you look at specific items -- computers, light bulbs, trashcans -- that you can tell whether the district is getting good value for money.

There's one final reason I'm voting against the school's facilities bond: I've seen what they did with facilities funds in previous bond issues. A few months ago I was over on the west side and stopped in at Crow's Drive-In for a bite to eat. Just across the street to the south is the architectural abortion known as the new Clinton Middle School. TPS tore down a dignified civic building, originally built as Red Fork's own high school, and erected a really hideous building in its place.


Clinton Middle School from the Beryl Ford Collection



I'm pleased and proud to welcome a new BatesLine sponsor: Janet Barresi, a candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Barresi has an impressive background in K-12 education, including direct experience in dealing with the challenges of urban education as a founder of two successful charter schools in Oklahoma City.

janetbarresi.jpgI believe our schools should be as great as our state, but that goal cannot be achieved without solid leadership in the Department of Education, which is why I have chosen to run for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

My platform is very simple. I want to ensure that parents are always encouraged to be involved in the education of their children and that they have the ability to choose the correct education for their child. I want to create a State Department of Education that is a resource for local districts, and I want to ensure that our testing of students is a byproduct of good teaching that enables us to truly understand how effective we are being, while empowering teachers to do what they do best: teach.

I know we can do better than we are today. Through my experiences in launching what is now Independence Charter Middle School, as well as Harding Charter Preparatory High School (which was recently recognized as one of the top high schools in America by Newsweek), I have seen that high expectations, a rigorous curriculum and an involved staff can be successful, regardless of the socio-economic background of the students.

Beyond her volunteer work in the schools, Janet Barresi was a speech pathologist and then a dentist for 24 years before retiring.

Tulsa Chigger, who is our local watchdog on charter school issues, had this to say:

I whole-heartedly endorse Dr. Janet Barresi and her campaign for the office of Oklahoma State Superintendent of Schools. She is an experienced reformer with the right set of priorities. I have personally worked with her on some charter school issues in years past.

I urge you to learn about Dr. Barresi by clicking that ad in the sidebar and visiting her website. I think you'll be impressed.

(A click-through is also a nice way to tell her thanks for sponsoring BatesLine.)

Oklahoma's statewide school board elections are today, February 9, 2010. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Two Tulsa school board seats are being contested: 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. You can read my comments on the 2010 Tulsa school board election here.

Steven Roemerman has the scoop on the Union School District bond issue.

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.


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.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa Education category from February 2010.

Tulsa Education: December 2009 is the previous archive.

Tulsa Education: March 2010 is the next archive.

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