Tulsa School Board Ends Abruptly After 3 Members Leave | Education

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Tempers boiled Monday night at the Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education meeting after Superintendent Deborah Gist expressed concerns about some of the board’s decisions.

Board members Jennettie Marshall, E’Lena Ashley, and Jerry Griffin walked out of the meeting after Gist began using the superintendent’s report portion of the agenda to outline his objections to some of the board’s votes on issues. points which did not receive the required majority for adoption. .

“What she’s saying is an attack on that painting,” Marshall said, speaking over Gist and drawing applause and cheers from one side of the room. “This is an attack on the board for taking whatever action it felt was appropriate. The board had the right to vote however they wanted. … I will absolutely not support that.

Between the three walkouts and the absence of board member Judith Barba Perez, the meeting ended prematurely due to lack of quorum.

Among the consent agenda items that did not pass Monday night were the district’s 2022-2023 agreement with Reading Partners to place volunteer reading coaches in 18 elementary schools, contracts for new teachers and support staff, staff movement within the district, recruiting allowances, and summer pay for some members of the district transportation department.

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Ashley and Marshall voted against everything on the consent agenda, while Griffin voted against 12 of the 28 consent agenda items. With the absence of Barba Perez, it was a tie vote for those 12 articles.

Marshall specifically noted during the consent agenda that she had no specific objections to Reading Partners, but wanted additional clarification on her work with the district.

Citing advice from a professional development session conducted by the Oklahoma State School Board Association, Marshall previously said she would not cut out individual consent agenda items for votes, but would consider that part of the file as a whole.

After the meeting, Andrea Castañeda, Acting Chief Talent Officer, said that due to the equality of the Board of Directors, future and current employees whose contracts were on Monday evening’s agenda are now in a procedural void as their status was neither approved nor denied.

“It may come back (in front of the board), and it behooves the board to take the time to thoroughly consider tonight’s actions, to consider the implications of what might happen if they persist,” she said. declared.

At the earliest, staffing issues could return before the board is at a special meeting originally scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday. This agenda has not yet been published.

The tension was further heightened by references throughout the evening by board members and public speakers to a Facebook post by Gist on Sunday afternoon.

In addition to calling out state-level officials in the position, she also called a board member “obviously bigoted.” Gist later confirmed she was referring to Ashley, who previously shared a meme about same-sex relationships and a post claiming women’s sports were under attack from transgender athletes.

After the meeting, Gist posted a Facebook Live video taking responsibility for his role at Monday’s meeting and asking the board to come together to address the immediate issues facing the district.

“We have to come back to the table on Thursday,” she said. “We must put the needs of students, teachers, everyone in our city first. We all have a role to play and none of us can walk away from the table. Our students deserve more than that, and I believe that we can rectify the situation. I am convinced that we can repair what happened tonight.

In addition to items that could come before the board as early as Thursday, a recommendation to award $6.2 million of the technology portion of the district’s 2021 bond package to the Bank of Oklahoma also failed to receive a majority. required for passage.

Gist’s husband, Ronnie Jobe, is a bank employee. Despite Gist’s repeated statements that his scope of work had nothing to do with school obligations and that the bidding process was overseen by an outside party, Marshall, Griffin and Ashley voted against the award. of the offer.

When questioned by board members, district financial advisor Rick Smith of Edmond-based Municipal Finance Services Inc. said the bidding process was competitive, as required by law. , and that Bank of Oklahoma had the lowest bid of over $46,000.

“Because it (the resolution) does not pass, … we will not be able to issue these bonds and we will have to go back to the market,” he said. “However, I think it will create concerns among bidders about the future of the district.”

Among the consent agenda items that received approval on Monday was the formal termination of TPS’s previously approved $150,000 2022-23 contract with Snickelbox LLC.

Snickelbox previously contracted with the district to “update and refine talent management practices” to recruit and retain teachers.

However, at a special board meeting last Thursday, the district revealed that an investigation was underway into allegations that the Atlanta-based contractor made payments to TPS employees and that the district had already ceased using the contractor’s services.

In addition to the now canceled deal, the district had a $300,000 contract with Snickelbox for the 2021-22 school year and a $200,000 contract for the 2020-21 school year.

On July 1, TPS officials announced the discovery of nearly $20,000 in vendor contract irregularities within the district personnel office. These irregularities allegedly occurred more than two years ago, but were brought to the attention of administrators over the past month and escalated to local law enforcement on June 27, Gist said.

As of close of business Monday, the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office has not received a police report on the matter.

In light of these irregularities, a recommendation was presented to the board Monday evening as a course of action for the district to issue a request for proposals for a third-party accountant to perform an audit in addition to the investigation ordered Thursday by the Governor Kevin Stitt in response to a letter from Marshall and Ashley.

However, this recommendation was rejected, in part for fear that it would compromise or interfere with the efforts of the Office of State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd.

“TPD is investigating,” said board vice-chairman John Croisant. “The State Auditor is coming. To me, as Dr. Marshall said, you allow the professionals to come in, give us a recommendation, and let us know what they need. We will cooperate fully with them, because that’s what we should be doing.

“Whether someone asked for it or not doesn’t matter. We have an audit coming up, and they need to be able to do a full investigation.”

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