Sunday, October 7, 2012

Commentary: Attempt to blame Barresi continues embarrassing, unproductive trend

Oklahoma Capitol -- A September 30 story in the Sunday Oklahoman regarding employment turnover among public school superintendents revealed just how far the education establishment is willing to go to blame State Superintendent Janet Barresi for even the most innocuous occurrences.

According to the Oklahoman, Fort Gibson Public Schools Superintendent Derald Glover blames Superintendent Barresi and recent reforms she has supported for the turnover. Glover’s comments are noteworthy because he is chairman of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration (CCOSA), an association of public school superintendents in Oklahoma.

Glover acknowledges circumstances at the district level are a factor in superintendent turnover, but he "believes there's a stronger force behind the resignations, retirements and firings."

Glover said, "We have a lot of reform being pressed down on us all at once ... I think that's why you're seeing more and more people get out of this profession and fewer and fewer getting in."

The Oklahoman reports that between 2006 and 2011 more than 300 superintendents resigned and another 218 retired or were terminated by local school boards. Glover's comments are inane since Barresi was in office for only one of the five years examined in the story. The peak year for resignations was 2008 when 75 superintendents resigned -- well before Barresi was elected.

Varnum Public Schools changed superintendents every year between 2006 and 2011 and twice last year. Watson Public Schools changed superintendents five times since 2006, while Holdenville Public Schools replaced its superintendent six times since 2006. Oklahoma City Public Schools has seen four superintendents leave since 2006, including two departures in 2008.

As chairman of CCOSA, Glover's comments make it clear they won't let common sense stand in the way of blaming Barresi for even the silliest and most remote grievance. The truth should compel CCOSA leaders to acknowledge that local control, old age and criminal charges have had more to do with superintendent turnover than Barresi.

Former Skiatook Superintendent Gary Johnson resigned in 2010 and later pled guilty to bribery charges. Former Broken Arrow Superintendent Jim Sisney was fired in 2008 and was recently indicted on bribery and conspiracy charges.

Many superintendents "resign" to avoid being fired, often agreeing to resign in exchange for an agreement by the school board to divert taxpayer money from the classroom to a contract buyout for the superintendent. 

In addition, many resignations resulted from superintendents moving to more lucrative districts as others retired or were terminated.

In a recent discussion about this topic I was told "the cause of the large Superintendent turnover in 2008 was the passage of ESIP in 2006. ESIP was a change in Teachers Retirement that allowed for past service credit salary levels to be increased. This legislation was supported by all the major groups representing school administrators. After passage many administrators used the provisions of this legislation to increase their retirement payments."

Superintendent Barresi’s election represented a demand by voters for higher expectations and more accountability in public education in Oklahoma. Barresi is not alone in her desire to improve student achievement. Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders have worked hard to pass meaningful education reform laws in recent years.

By now it shouldn't surprise anyone that school superintendents are blaming Barresi for something as ridiculous and random as school superintendent turnover.

One thing is certain: superintendents aren't leaving because of pay cuts or the elimination of their positions (with rare exceptions). The education establishment has taken their dislike of Barresi to a new low.

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