I, quite literally, have Janet Barresi to thank for my blogging career. I listened to a podcast of her first Board meeting after I heard about the fireworks. I sat there, screaming at the computer…so loudly, my husband closed the door to the spare room so he could watch football uninterrupted.
Soon, the DOK, whom we learned later would be Barresi’s staunchest ally, printed a political cartoon, showing the Superintendent as the harried teacher, with a class full of sand-throwing children acting up. I’d heard the meeting, and I knew who the real playground bully was. If you listened, as I did, to every word, it was apparent she had gone into that meeting ready and willing to poke the Board members until they erupted. And they did. She went to her first meeting with an agenda: to bully and confront.
I wrote a long-ish piece which I knew would never get into the paper, so I posted it on FB as a note.
I remember how quickly and decisively Governor Fallin and the Legislature acted after that meeting to protect Barresi from the evil School Board. A new law was enacted that allowed the Governor to immediately replace Board members, and she did. She packed that Board with allies. Barresi wanted a rubber-stamp Board, and she got it. Except for one independent, courageous member, Joy Hofmeister, who asked tough questions, and voted with children as her only agenda.
Now, fast forward four years. The now blessedly-former Superintendent was handily defeated in her own primary, coming in third, behind a candidate who rarely showed up for public events. Her own party voted her out of office. Not the education establishment…her own party.
Currently we have a new Superintendent with a Board left over from the old administration. And fireworks erupted again yesterday. This time, it appears the deliberate, provoking behavior was on the part of two members who expected Superintendent Hofmeister to carry on the traditions of that disgraced predecessor. Apparently, Superintendent Hofmeister did not allow enough time for Board member Bill Price’s new business (the Senate bill proposed, written, and supported by Board member Amy Ford) and the failure to hire a Board secretary seem to be the surface reasons for the mutiny. After the meeting, other petty complaints arose.
There is obviously more afoot here that an early adjournment. Member Amy Ford seems angry that ‘her’ bill, SB301, was not endorsed by the Board. In the article she calls it ‘my bill,’ then backs off and says she asked Kyle Loveless to sponsor the bill. Senator Loveless may have his name on it, but he was unable to answer questions put before him in the Education Committee as the committee considered the bill. Luckily enough, that morning, Board member Ford just so happened to be in the audience and was allowed to explain what Loveless didn’t understand. This is her project, and she is pushing Loveless and whispering in his ear. I watched the Ed Committee tell him his bill was a mess; to quote Senator Jolley, it’s “a lawsuit waiting to happen.” But it was passed through committee. Then, on the floor of the Senate, Loveless was a bit better prepared. He again promised to ‘fix’ the bill, to address all the concerns. It passed.
This is the bill Ford wants endorsed.
We again have bullies on the playground. NOW the bullies are a couple of Board members who promised, in their best bully voices, to oppose Superintendent Hofmeister, just for the sake of opposing her. Just because they didn’t get their way. Just because they can…
Tulsa World covered the meeting and the raised voices. “Ford vowed to “uniformly vote down every issue” until the dispute is resolved in her mind, and Price concurred. So, they get their way, and they get their bill supported, and they get their secretary, or they will block all business of the Board. Bullies at work.
To me, the two Board members undercut all their possible credibility by referring to the ‘good old days” of the previous administration, and the practices of the former, disgraced, Superintendent. Did the Board members not take note of the election? Did they not see Oklahomans voted an incumbent out of office in the primary? Do they really think mentioning how great things were under the former Superintendent would bring supporters to their side? Not bloody likely. I read their toadying to the previous Superintendent with disgust.
As Superintendent Hofmeister said, her administration is only two months and two weeks old. A bit of patience might be in order, some relationship-building. Some listening, some creating new traditions. Instead, we got bullying of a duly-elected official. And promises of more bullying.
Rob Miller was first to jump on this story, connecting dots from the previous administration’s questionable hire of a law enforcement officer for the Accreditation Section. A hire who chose to quit moments before Hofmeister’s administration would take control. Rob wonders if SB301 was written to give said law enforcement, and husband of a friend of the Board, a new job. I don’t know, but it’s something to consider as we look at the bluster and bullying. There’s something behind all this.
As a teacher, that’s the first thing I’d do with conflicts between students: look beyond the surface, behind the wall -- the behavior, the words. Look for the reason, the motivation. The “why”? of the conflict. I couldn’t help students solve the surface problem until we’d looked deeply at what they were feeling, what happened before, usually completely unrelated to the incident at hand.
The WHY? bothers me a lot. Why? Why this temper tantrum? Why this temper tantrum now? Why all the posturing? Why bring up the disgraced former Superintendent as a model of leadership?
And then there’s the ever-important “What”? question.
What will Governor Fallin do now?
Here’s my advice: the bullies must go.