My colleague State Representative Jason Smalley, myself, and many others are calling for the resignation of Barresi and two staffers, Dr. Larry Birney and Kim Richey. The hire of Dr. Birney resulted in the resignation of a longtime and respected member of the office, Lynn Jones. Birney, who has not worked in education before, was the spouse of Kim Richey, the general counsel. Hiring him was not illegal, but Oklahomans have long recognized nepotism or cronyism as an immoral practice in state government. When it causes good employees to resign, it is effectively burning down the house before the new superintendent comes on. A new position was created to hire Birney, which also means taxpayer dollars were spent to fund this nepotism to the tune of $90,000 per year.
Due to this situation, I am looking into possible legislation which would prevent outgoing state officials and lawmakers who have been defeated in their election from making non-essential hires or creating new positions. I believe if an individual has been defeated within the democratic process, their constituents have clearly spoken their desire to move on. There should be no reasonable reason to create new positions or hire for non-essential positions. Unfortunately, this latest move is not uncommon in state government. Oftentimes outgoing officials will spend budgets and hire individuals rapidly, leaving very little for their successor to begin with. Simple legislation could fix this problem.
After last week’s release of the latest A-F scores, I am hearing of and seeing the failures in the implementation of the A-F grading system. A lot of money that could have been put into other projects has now gone down the drain as we continue to push a testing system that has not been properly calibrated or executed. I think the A-F system was an ambitious project to infuse accountability and transparency into our educational system. However, it’s implementation has been horrible at best. It needs to include a great deal of input from local schools during every step of the process and to this point, state officials have refused to do this. Many factors such as attendance rates and poverty levels are graded, putting rural schools at an immediate disadvantage. While many schools within my district continue to struggle based upon the state’s grading system, I will continue to stand by them because I know the other side of the story. Instead of seeing a letter grade based on incomplete data, I see administrators, teachers, and parents alike who put everything they have into our local schools. We aren’t without our struggles for sure, but I have much more confidence in them than our state does.
Change cannot come soon enough to the highest education office in Oklahoma. I look forward to working with whoever replaces Barresi as we try to create positive momentum for Oklahoma students.