OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) — Tulsa Public Schools’ accreditation status will remain the same, but the State Superintendent threatened the district with “real consequences” if the district does not make quick improvements in a multitude of areas.
The Oklahoma State Board of Education discussed possible action against Tulsa Public Schools during the July meeting, but State Superintendent Ryan Walters recommended a decision be tabled until August.
“We want to do a deep dive on some other issues we’ve had with their reporting to the State Department of Education, which has given us issues and being able to actually see with clarity how money is spent in the district. We also have the issues of some other things that we’ll be bringing up as well that our team has found. And again, this is one of the things that when you’re looking at a board that we take accreditation very seriously. We want to ensure that we have turned over every stone. We’ve done a deep dive into it. When you’re looking at this kind of money, when you’re looking at this kind of misreporting and it looks like there could be intentionality around it, that’s something we take very seriously,” explained Supt. Walters.
The fate of Tulsa Public Schools was one of the first items on the agenda on Thursday.
Oklahoma State Department of Education General Counsel, Bryan Cleveland explained to the Board there are deep problems rooted in the Tulsa district.
Cleveland pointed to three years reportedly filled with deficiencies.
“You’re seeing three years in a row of problems and internal controls that ultimately developed into the revelation in ’22. Inevitably there was embezzlement when you don’t have proper internal controls. So far, you know, they’ve identified three contracts that have had the issues with embezzlement. Also looking at the audit report, they know that the Chief Talent and Equity Officer of Tulsa Public Schools was leading the effort but was not the sole person involved because approving vendors, creating purchase orders and issuing payments all occurred without effective oversight or monitoring,” stated Cleveland.
Tulsa Public Schools Board member, Dr. Jennettie Marshall told the OSBE she doesn’t deny the school district has problems, but they’re working towards major improvements.
“Positive things are on the horizon,” she said. “The fresh winds of change will assist.”
Supt. Walters said one of the first steps towards change required Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist be removed from office.
“I am writing to share with you that, in order to keep control of our schools where it belongs – in Tulsa with our elected Board of Education – I believe it is necessary for me to step aside as superintendent. Doing so offers the best chance for control of our schools to remain in Tulsa, aligned with the values of our community.”Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist
Through a mutual decision, the Tulsa Board of Education accepted Supt. Gist’s resignation Wednesday night.
Supt. Gist’s resignation will be effective September 15.
“Superintendent Deborah Gist had to go. She had an incredibly poor performance,” stated Supt. Walters.
The State Board of Education is now moving forward on what to do next with Tulsa Public Schools.
State Board member, Donald Burdick laid out a motion on what he wants to see from Tulsa Public Schools. It includes:
- A plan to train teachers in reading
- A plan for all Tulsa schools with a ‘F’ on their state report card
- New internal controls that would protect the Tulsa Public Schools district from embezzlement
The Tulsa Public Schools Interim Superintendent will also be required to present monthly progress reports to the State Board of Education.
Supt. Walters said he needs to see “vast improvements” within the Tulsa school district in three to four months.
“I would advise Tulsa Public Schools, their leadership, do not test me. I’m willing to do whatever it takes for these kids,” stated Supt. Walters. “There will be a real consequence within a few months if these measures aren’t made.”
Some Tulsa Public Schools’ parents, like Carmen Drummond said three to four months to turn the district around is not enough.
Drummond explained parents have to be involved for real change to happen.
“It’s going to be a much bigger effort. It’s going to take a lot more time than three to four months,” said Drummond.
However, Burdick’s motion unanimously passed and the Tulsa school district will remain accredited with deficiencies.
Supt. Walters said the clock started on improvements the moment Burdick’s motion passed.
An exact plan on how the State Department of Education will track the district’s success was not addressed in the meeting, but was afterwards in a press conference.
Supt. Walters plans to review data and monitor vendor contracts.
“I think that they do have some things in place that are good measurements,” he added. “We’re excited for a new direction. I am laser focused on this. This isn’t going to be cosmetic. This isn’t going to be some plan rollout. This isn’t just about changing personnel. This is about changing trajectories and the way we’re going to measure that is data, meaningful data,” said Supt. Walters.
The next State Board of Education meeting is scheduled for September 28.
In addition to Tulsa Public Schools’ accreditation on the agenda, Supt. Walters proposed districts present two reports in the future: one on district pronoun policies and another on foreign government funding.
“What we’ve heard from some districts is there have been certain policies that have been instituted on telling teachers that they could be in jeopardy by not using a correct pronoun. They’ve been advised to change these throughout the year and there have been concerns from some districts and some individual teachers on that. And the best way for us to deal with it is to say, ‘Okay, well, if there’s guidance, we want to see it.’ If there is communication directly to teachers that’s engaging them in this, we just think it’s nonsense,” added Supt. Walters.
Supt. Walters claimed “Communist China” has been funding Tulsa Public Schools, so now he’s rolling out the requirement to report who funding is coming from and why.
Both proposed policies were unanimously approved by the Board.
“We’re exploring what we can do as an agency. But we’re also already talking to legislators about, ‘Hey, you know, we’re going to issue this. We’re going to get the feedback when we get the policies back, and then we want to have a conversation of what we can do legislatively to fix this,'” said Supt. Walters.