Sen. Rice leads new wave of legislative Democrats assailing Barresi’s priorities, practices

Several more Democrats serving in the state Legislature, including Senate Minority Leader Andrew Rice, have joined the cascade of criticism aimed at Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi over the past three weeks.

Rice’s critical comments came while Barresi and her staff at the state Department of Education led “Innovation 2011,” and the Republican superintendent delivered her first-ever State of Education address  at the Cox Convention Center in downtown Oklahoma City.

Sen. Rice, who represents much of the MidCity area at the Capitol, rhetorically bashed Barresi, but extended his critique to Governor Mary Fallin and Republicans who are in charge of the House and Senate.

Late last week, Rice said, “Not only did legislative Republicans and the Governor write and pass a budget that negligently underfunded public schools and the children those schools serve, but all session they proposed to consolidate immense power into the hands of Superintendent Barresi.”

Rice continued, “It seems the very best teachers will be paying a very high price due to the Governor and legislative Republicans. Their ‘turn a blind eye’ approach to the state Superintendent’s legislative agenda has now resulted in the passage of a budget that guts common education, eliminates financial incentives for our best and brightest educators and threatens to weaken Oklahoma schools’ ability to meet the needs of some of the state’s most vulnerable children.”

Rice contended, “Governor Fallin and the legislative Republicans failed to eliminate special interest tax breaks to free up money for public education this session and show no signs of doing so in the future. The blame for the surprising and extreme cuts being made by the Superintendent lay at their feet as well.”

The leader of Senate Democrats said Republican priorities are misplaced: “The Governor and House and Senate Republicans can say all day long they value public education, but their actions speak much louder than their words, and I fear the worse is yet to come until they all begin legislating from the center.”

A leading House Democrat, Mike Brown of Tahlequah, says he is filing House Bill 2186 to support “Merit-Based Pay for Professional Development.” The measure will aim, he said, to establish a dedicated funding source for National Board Certified Teachers.

With $18 million less to appropriate from the activities fund the board of education controls, Barresi and the board voted to end state funding for the $5,000 stipend NBCT educators had received in recent years.

Brown’s envisioned change in law would, he said, mirror “the mechanism in place for funding the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program.”

In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, Brown said, “In my opinion, both the Legislature and Superintendent Barresi are derelict in their duties by failing to honor the statutory requirement of funding these bonuses.

“I can’t think of any professional that wouldn’t be upset if they earned an increase in pay and then were, without notice or adequate explanation, told they were receiving this year what amounts to a significant pay decrease.”

Another House Democrat, Jeannie McDaniel of Tulsa, said in her own statement, “I am really concerned by the lack of accountability and transparency in this budget process, and how it not only blindsided the Members of the Board of Education, but the many administrators who were not aware that their programs were on the chopping block.

“They were given barely a week’s notice that their program would be either financially crippled or eliminated altogether.”

Rep. Donnie Condit, a McAlester Democrat and retired educator, said, “What concerns me is the lack of input from administrators and other lifelong educators. I understand that the make-up of the Board of Education has changed drastically in the last few months, and though this new administration is well-intended they are by no means experts on every facet of education.

“They should have considered the opinions of experienced educators and program administrators who truly do understand the issues at hand before they slashed their funding.”