OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma State Board of Education placed the Western Heights School District on probation Friday morning, after the board’s general counsel cited a plethora of problems that are plaguing the district.
“The recommendation of the department is to put Western Heights on probation in order for corrective action and close monitoring,” State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said in the virtual meeting.
“Majority of the school sites in Western Heights are federally designated as in need of improvement,” Brad Clark, the board’s general counsel, said.
The board said the district has 90 days to address and take corrective actions on the issues brought up in the meeting. If they don’t, they risk losing accreditation.
Board members said they were alarmed by a drop in both students and staff. Also, they said numerous complaints from district staff and parents have come in.
“The district has also seen just in the last year a substantial loss of student enrollment,” Clark said.
An audit revealed that in one year, the student population dropped from about 3,400 students to 2,600. It also revealed a 25 percent drop in staff members in a span of two years. That’s due to retirement, termination, and resignations. The district’s graduation rates are among the lowest in the state, according to the audit, while absenteeism is among the highest. Nutrition services were also discontinued in the spring of 2020. This was a hot topic when the district’s superintendent Mannix Barnes elected to stop distributing meals to children when schools started to go virtual due to the pandemic. Even with the pandemic, no other school’s district has gone as long as Western Heights without in person classes.
The board also brought up superintendent Mannix Barnes’s contract. It showed a salary of $220,000 for his year there. That’s $115,000 more than the previous superintendent who was there for 24 years.
“That is the fifth highest compensation for all superintendents in the state. No experience at that time,” Clark said.
The district has also reached a level in special education that the general counsel said “needs intervention.”
Western Heights was requested to be present at the board meeting to respond to the allegations and findings by the board’s general counsel. They decided not to show up.
Instead, they sent the board a letter Thursday that can be read in full below.
The letter was in response to another letter sent to them by the Board of Education that can also be read below.
In the school district’s letter, they state in part that the board is keeping the identity and substance of the complaints secret and the district will respond to the allegations if the hearing is “in the appropriate forum, and the appropriate statutory and due process protections are provided.”
“I would really challenge the local school board to do a look inward and do some house cleaning with their leadership,” said Brian Bobelk, a member of the state board of education.
It’s important to note that KFOR reached out to Western Heights’ Superintendent Mannix Barnes. He said he would only do the interview if it was a live interview. Due to time constraints, we are unable to make that happen. KFOR also reached out to the attorney for the district who said he was unavailable for an interview Friday afternoon.