OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — The Oklahoma State Board of Education (OKSBOE) voted unanimously Monday to take direct control of the Western Heights Public Schools for one year to “stabilize” the district.
The move is intended to bring the district back into compliance with state accountability measures that all public school districts must follow.
The State Department of Education will appoint an interim superintendent and a team to take control of the administration of the district.
The district, including its board of education, will not be able to make any decisions without approval by the OKSBOE.
Staff will contact law enforcement to enforce access for a full audit and temporary control of the district which will remain on probation.
The interim administration will report directly to the OKSBOE as the district is brought back into compliance with state law and governance responsibilities to the taxpayers.
The OKSBOE has cited $32 million with no documentation to verify fund balances as one of many reasons for doubt about the district’s board and leadership.
Working relationships between the district’s teachers, staff, and the administration have soured in the past two years to the point that 37% of the staff have departed.
Contract negotiations between the administration, the board, and the unionized teachers and staff of the district have been at an impasse for two years — the length of time Barnes has been superintendent — which is very unusual in the state.
In fact, they are the only district in the state to have two years in a row where the unions and district have been at an impasse.
The majority of districts across the state negotiate a contract and have it ratified by their unions and the board of education by the start of school each year. And most impasse situations are resolved within the first few months of the school year.
There are no signs that the district has done any significant work for student remediation with COVID relief funds that they received.
Yet, in spite of these problems, clear violations of state law, and being on probation, the Western Heights Board of Education voted in June to give Superintendent Mannix Barnes a three-year extension on his contract that amounted to close to $1 million dollars and gave him a $25,000 “performance” bonus.
Western Heights Public Schools was put on probation by the Board in April after hearing persistent complaints of misused bond funds, fiscal mismanagement, and a drain of teachers, other staff, and students out of the district. The western Oklahoma City district was given until July 8 to correct the problems.
Instead of making the corrections, the board filed a lawsuit against the state board of education on April 22.
Barnes had his superintendent certificate suspended in June for retaliatory behavior toward staff, fiscal mismanagement, and poor performance. Serving in the role since 2019, Barnes cannot stay in the role having a suspended certificate.
Yet, Barnes has defiantly continued to hold the position with the Western Heights Board of Education support.
He has been dismissive of parents who have been complaining, the OKSBOE, and the State Department of Education.
Barnes was a member of that same board before it hired him to be the Superintendent of the district. He has no previous experience in education.
Sustain our journalism by becoming a supporter
Oklahoma City Free Press is dedicated to providing high quality journalism that positively impacts our community. Click this linkto support our mission.
Last Updated July 12, 2021, 2:07 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor