Capitol Beat OK

Board of Education reform goes to House

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published: 22-Feb-2011

The Oklahoma state Senate has given its approval to legislation that will restructure membership of the State Board of Education and, advocates say, “enhance checks and balances between the board and the superintendent.”
Senate Bill 435, by President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman and Sen. John Ford, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, passed Monday (February 21) with the emergency clause on a party-line vote of 32 to 15.
Bingman said that swift action was needed in the legislature to ensure the State Superintendent could do the job voters elected her to do.
Superintendent Janet Barresi and members of the current board, all of whom were appointed by the state’s previous governor, have been in continuous conflict since she took office in January. Tensions accelerated dramatically when members of the board refused to approve the new superintendent’s top hires for the state Department of Education.
At Barresi’s first meeting with the board, she and members of her staff were under continuous rhetorical attack, with one board members saying a pregnant member of her staff would be “worthless” to the agency in the final weeks of the legislative session.
After passage of the measure in the Senate yesterday, President Pro Tem Bingman, a Sapulpa Republican, said, “This is an important day for education in Oklahoma.  The vote for a new Superintendent was a vote for education reform.  Now those reforms can move forward.”
During debate, Sen. John Ford, a Bartlesville Republican, said that the current State Board of Education is not accountable to the will of the people.  Ford believes that S.B. 435 will address that concern.
“Senate Bill 435 returns the board to the original constitutional structure and strengthens checks and balances by defining the proper role of the superintendent and the board,” Ford said.  “The bottom line is creating a structure that will ensure the best interest of Oklahoma’s children will be met.”
Under S.B. 435, current board members would be replaced with the Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State and the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
State Sen. Harry Coates of Seminole was the only Republican who opposed the measure, but he made it clear his concern was that he believed a larger board was wise. After opposing the measure on the merits, Coates backed the emergency clause. Therefore, if the measure prevails in the House with that clause intact, it could go into effect as soon as the governor signs it.
The measure will now head to the House for further consideration.
The Oklahoman reported this morning that Senate leaders do not intend to bring S.B. 718, a more dramatic statutory proposal stripping the board of all its powers, to the floor. That measure had passed committee deliberation early in the session.