The Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education met Monday for an official work session in the superintendent’s conference room to discuss a wide range of issues and plans.
The meeting lasted for about 4 hours, but at the end board members leaving for home seemed relaxed and satisfied with the work they put in.
We caught some members for comment as they were leaving.
Charles Henry said the meeting was productive because the entire time was spent on plans and interacting with each other where regular board meetings have many different things to be accomplished.
He told Free Press “it should have been live-streamed” so the public could hear the “substantive issues” they were discussing.
Chair Paula Lewis seemed happy with the way the meeting went.
This is the “first time I’ve had some serious hope” for the future of the district said, Rebecca Budd.
“We are getting situated where we can include input from the public and make decisions from the outside, in,” said Budd.
And for those who knew the board would work on Superintendent Aurora Lora’s evaluation, Budd reminded us that Lora is half-way through her contract having served one and one-half years with one and one-half more to go.
Gloria Torres told us that she is “really frustrated” that the district still hasn’t built at least one new school on the south side where every elementary is full and the middle schools and high schools have had to add portable buildings to accommodate the large numbers of students.
There has been “too much political pressure” to put other things first in the expenditure of money and then in planning what would be in the next bond issue, she said.
Jace Kirk was present for part of the evening to start getting oriented to the board since he is running unopposed in District 7 on the southeast side of the OKCPS.
We caught outgoing District 7 Board member Ron Millican on his way out of the building and asked what he thought of Kirk.
“He’s good. His heart is in the right place. I hate to give up my seat, but they have a good one coming in,” Millican said with a smile.
There are limitations to reporting a four-hour meeting, but here are the highlights.
Apparently, the ghost of former Superintendent Rob Neu lingers in the workings of the district even a year and one half after he left.
The first order of business was to discuss how to move beyond the four-page vision statement that came out of the “Great Commitment” plan under Neu.
Some on the board believe that the vision is so long it has little effect as a vision statement.
“We need a more succinct vision statement,” said south side member Gloria Torres. “And we need to develop policies based on it so that staff members know what’s expected.”
Ruth Veales reminded the board that it is not the job of the superintendent and her staff to come up with a vision and policies for the district, but theirs.
Chief of Staff Rebecca Kaye presented some demographics that OKCPS and the City of Oklahoma City have been working on in partnership.
Charts showed projections that the district will not see the “explosive growth of the past five years,” said Kaye.
Projections out through the school year 2028 are that student numbers will dip slightly and then stay at a level slightly below where the district is now.
Kaye proposed developing a planning tool that would be “centered around population.”
Across the district this year “roughly one-third of available instructional capacity is vacant,” she said.
Yet, on the south side, each school is at capacity requiring portable buildings just to have enough classroom space for the number of students arriving each year.
Chief Operations Officer Scott Randall then presented a comparison of bond offerings issued by Tulsa Public Schools and OKCPS.
His timeline showed that Tulsa voters had approved several bond issues over the decade between one issued by OKCPS in 2007 and the next in 2016.
He pushed for a regular cycle of asking voters to approve bond issues.
“We want to get on a more regular cyclical pattern,” said Randall.
Board members asked about what they could spend money on from bond money that they have not at the present.
Randall said that state law would allow the district to purchase textbooks and upgrades to the district’s technology which is being spent out of general funds this year.
If money was spent on those items out of the bond money instead, then more general fund monies could be spent directly on instruction and teacher pay.
Randall presented several ideas about committees that could facilitate a more organized and forward-thinking approach to district needs.
Board members seem to buy Randall’s idea of the district needing to regularly educate the public about the needs of the district in a campaign for a new bond issue about every five years.
He and several board members agreed that a regular schedule would provide an organization that regular education that they don’t have now.
As a part of Lora’s presentation on current “hot topics” the district is working on, Lora talked about the possibility of Kotter International becoming a long-range consultant to the district with the goal of affecting the “culture” of the district.
Lora and several board members talked about the possible expenses of taking on the consulting firm because of how expensive it might be.
But there may be a way to get donors to provide the funds to pay for the Kotter contract.
Members and executives discussed the pros and cons of raising money for the Kotter consultation when there is so much need in the classrooms at present.
Lora announced the change in how the Human Resources department would be organized.
On the whole, the shift is intended to make it clearer what part of HR would carry out investigations.
As well, how the district attracts talent to apply and then keep that talent will be the job of a talent management team.
The board will hold alternating work sessions with regular board meetings now that the busiest time of the year for a school district has begun.
The public is welcome at the work sessions as well as at regular meetings of the board.
Schedules, agendas and live-streaming information can be found on the district’s website.