Education funding priorities criticized, alleged “conflict of interest” assailed
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Published: 28-Jun-2011

An initial wave of supportive comments about budget priorities established at last week’s meeting of the state Board of Education has given way to a flurry of critical statements early this week. One of the critics is the leader of the state’s strongest non-union teachers association. 

In an interview with CapitolBeatOK, Ginger Tinney of Professional Oklahoma Educators (POE) expressed concern about agency priorities. 

In addition to her reflections on priorities and budgets, Tinney also issued this process critique: “One of the amounts listed on the state aid funding formula is incorrect. The number given by the state department was $1.89 billion, which was last year’s number. This year’s number is $1.81 billion.”

Tinney continued, “The state department made a mistake when quoting the budget numbers; the difference in the two amounts is $93 million.”

An important funding decision on early childhood education made at last week’s meeting attracted immediate support from Pat Potts of Oklahoma Champions for Early Opportunities (OKCEO). Potts cheered the decision to boost early childhood funding. 

Tinney, however has taken a critical stance: “It is interesting to note that Supt. Janet Barresi is giving more money to early childhood, an increase of $656,525.”

Tinney said, “Another concern is the conflict of interest on the state Board of Education. Mr. Phil Lakin, who is the executive director of the George Kaiser Family Foundation and who is also a member of the Educare Board of Directors, will benefit from the $10,000,000 state allocation to Educare.

“In past years, the Educare allocation was matched by the George Kaiser Family Foundation. Supt. Barresi’s budget does not mention any matching funds. However, regardless of the matching funds issue, the conflict of interest is clear.”

Tinney also asserted Superintendent Barresi “is not fully funding the health insurance benefit (FBA), shorting it $33-35 million for both certified and support, for educators across the state. 

“Oklahoma teachers are tired of being lied to. Either the state keeps its word to educators or that word means nothing. The state has promised to pay the teacher’s health insurance as an important benefit that most teachers rely upon.

“The fact that the state Department of Education is not fully funding teacher’s insurance is hard for teachers and conservatives to accept, especially when other areas are receiving additional money along with the new state Department staff receiving very large salaries.”

Tinney continued, “In addition, the National Board Certified teachers were denied their promised bonuses. This makes for an untrustworthy environment. How can teachers ever believe what the Oklahoma Department of Education says to educators? What example does this set for children?”

Also criticizing Barresi and the Board was state Rep. Joe Dorman of Rush Springs, a Democrat. On Monday, Dorman said he was “extremely angry” at Barresi’s suggestion that school districts make up the $5,000 per teacher per year stipend for national board certified teachers. 

In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, Dorman said, “Our school districts are strapped for dollars and they have consistently cut everywhere and anywhere they could, and they cannot afford to take on a responsibility which by law is one that the state has to provide. Barresi’s whole ‘let them eat cake’ attitude reveals her obliviousness to the very real plight of our school districts and public schools.”

Barresi has stressed respect for the national board certification program, and suggested school districts should support that funding. She told Peter J. Rudy of OklahomaWatchdog.org:
 
“I want to stress that we are specifically asking districts to look at the $33 million that is going out there where they have the maximum flexibility … and I want to stress that we are asking those districts to honor those who are at board levels. … We are asking districts to take a look at that and award those dollars to teachers.”

Rep. Dorman also criticized the salary being provided to some of the superintendent’s staff, cuts in reading programs, and other decisions at the agency. He said:

“I am extremely concerned at the lackadaisical attitude of the Superintendent when it comes to incentive programs for teachers, as the only viable option for school districts to fund programs that the state should fund, would be by seeking increases in ad valorem taxes. I know my constituents do not want to see a tax hike for a program which has been successfully funded by the state in years past."

Also on Monday, state Rep. Ed Cannaday of Porum criticized Superintedent Barresi and a majority of the state Board of Education for not funding the national teacher certification stipends.

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