President Pro Tem Bingman responds to actions taken against Superintendent Janet Barresi

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published 27-Jan-2011

Oklahoma State Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman today (Thursday, January 27) expressed concern over what he called a pattern of obstruction by the State Board of Education in recent months. Bingman’s comments came after the State Board of Education today blocked the hiring of key personnel at the Department of Education by new State Superintendent Janet Barresi.
A CapitolBeatOK news story summarized the controversy that broke loose during today’s meeting of the state Board of Education.
“The individuals Superintendent Barresi has chosen to be her senior staff are of the highest caliber, and they are more than qualified for their positions,” said Bingman. “The Board’s actions today stoop to the level of rank partisanship at a time when our state’s education system can least afford these kinds of delays and games.”
“I’m very troubled today’s actions are the culmination of a pattern of obstruction by the board, and I’m closely examining legislative remedies,” continued Bingman. “This unelected group of political appointees seems to be attempting to thwart the will of the people, ignoring the clear mandate for reform and change that brought Superintendent Barresi to office.”
During today’s meeting, members of the State Board of Education refused to approve the hiring of Jennifer Carter as chief of staff, who holds a Juris Doctorate. Under state law, Bingman noted higher education institutions accord a Juris Doctorate degree equal recognition to other doctorate degrees.
“Certainly Oklahoma’s colleges and universities have recognized the importance of a Juris Doctorate degree,” said Bingman.
The actions of the board members today are hindering the ability of the State Department of Education to function efficiently and effectively, in the President Pro Tem’s view.
During today’s meeting, members of the State Board of Education refused to approve the hiring of Jennifer Carter as chief of staff, Damon Gardenhire as Communications Director, and Jill Geiger as Director of Finance.
Professor Andrew Spiropoulos, a constitutional law expert, commented on the controversy in a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK at mid-day:
In response to the turmoil, Andrew Spiropoulos, Milton Friedman Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, issued this following statement:
“The actions taken by the State Board of Education today — not allowing the newly elected superintendent to hire her own staff — are a perfect illustration of dysfunction in state government. It’s time for the state Legislature to reform the state Board of Education.
“Though the state constitution does require the establishment of a State Board of Education, it explicitly states that, in addition to its composition, the board’s “powers and duties shall be prescribed by law.” The Legislature, therefore, can restrict or even take away the board’s managerial powers; at a minimum, the Legislature must ensure the superintendent possesses sufficient power to hire staff and manage the department as she sees fit. The Legislature can also reform the board by altering the length of its members’ terms and how they are appointed.
“The members of the board, except for the superintendent, are currently appointed by the governor and hold six-year terms. The Legislature could easily revise the law to require that the term of each incumbent member ends with the election of a new governor and that each new member is appointed by the new governor or, maybe better yet, by the superintendent. The larger point is that control of our public education system is the hands of the Legislature and governor — they should be held responsible for remedying the board’s unconscionable acts.
“Today’s actions are a perfect example of why our government is dysfunctional. We tie down our executive officials with a dizzying array of boards and commissions that act like leeches on our public circulatory system. Why? Because we are unwilling to trust either the individuals the people have chosen to do their jobs well, or to trust the people to throw these officials out if they have performed poorly.
“The architects of our national government long ago explained that the prerequisites for good government are energy, stability, and accountability. There is no doubt having our educational system run by Gov. Brad Henry’s people long after his departure makes for a more stable government. But a government that both lacks the power to reform itself and ignores the clear command of the people to change is no good at all.”
The statement by Spiropoulos was distributed by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, where he is the Milton Friedman Distinguished Fellow.