Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Aurora Lora defended her administration Monday night against criticism that has been brewing among unionized building principals and assistant principals.
“This is a very challenging time to be in a school district,” Lora said. “But we’re going to keep producing results because our kids deserve it.”
The school site administrators say the problems have existed for two years even though Lora is only in her first year as superintendent. She was the associate superintendent under Rob Neu before his resignation last year.
The building/site principals and assistant principals are represented by Local No. 79 of the American Federation of School Administrators, one of the nationwide unions in the AFL-CIO, a long-standing federation of industrial unions.
At the regular meeting of the OKCPS Board, the attorney for the union read a two-page letter to the board during public comments critical of Lora and the district.
It said, “We contend that the District at-large is non-communicative, ineffective and exerts control by force or fear and absent genuine collaboration with school Principals and Assistant Principals.”
The letter argued that the district had “created an environment that undermines the morale of the school administrators.”
But Lora said she responded to frustrations when they were brought to her attention and has been taking action to fix issues that building administrators say are hurting morale.
During the superintendent’s comments time early in the meeting, Lora gave her reasons for pushing the district to higher standards.
“What we have been doing for a long time has not been working out great for us.” She said the district would have to “raise the standards” to prepare kids for college.
“I think one reason why I’m coming under a lot of fire right now is because I have really high standards for the work that we do,” Lora said.
She said she believes the principals “bring some very legitimate concerns to the table.”
Although the letter began with statements of concern for the “climate” of the district, the first of five numbered demands was specific.
It called for the district to “retain outside-trained, neutral investigators” to do the investigations if there are formal complaints against building administrators.
After the meeting was adjourned, Lora told Free Press the principals have a process very similar to the process for teachers where the accused may have a union representative of their choosing present during disciplinary meetings.
Yet, another demand was to “pay the attorney’s fees and costs of any Administrator that is successful in any employment action against the School District Administration.”
In a Q&A time with the media as the board moved into executive session, Lora said, “It is a stressful time in Oklahoma because of the $30 million in budget cuts that we had to take before this school year started.”
Other concerns in the letter were about disagreements principals had with the current administration over standards, budgets for certain programs and giving maintenance decisions back to principals instead of being handled through central office.
But Lora seemed to be calm and confident both parties’ ability to work out differences.
“The truth is I care about their concerns and I’ve demonstrated that.”
Below is the letter delivered and read by Rob Redwine, attorney for the American Federation of School Administrators, Local No. 79.Principals letter to OKCPS board
UPDATE: The PDF of the letter was added after initial publication of this story.