Oklahoma City News, Entertainment & Occasional Humor • Established 2007

Barresi vs. The Board of Education

"I answer to no one!"

“You have not been elected dictator by the people.” ~ Oklahoma Board of Education Member Tim Gilpin to State Superintendent Janet Barresi

On January 28th, newly elected State Superintendent Janet Barresi conducted her first meeting of the Board of Education. It did not go well. Within hours of the meeting’s adjournment, Barresi was holding a press conference flanked by the new Governor whining about the treatment she received. Later, both the Board and Barresi were demanding that the Attorney General investigate their counterpart. Now, the state legislature is moving to actually make Barresi dictator.

How did things go so bad, so quickly? Based on most media reports, one would think that it is because the Board made a pregnant woman cry. That did happen.

Jessica Russell, Barresi’s choice to be legislative liaison for the Department of Education, was brought before the Board for approval. With a baby due in April, Board member Herb Rozzell brought up that if she took maternity leave (afforded up to twelve weeks by the Family Medical Leave Act) that she would be “worthless” to the Board since she would miss the entire legislative session. Not mentioned was that she was basically being hired for a “no show” job that Tony Soprano would think was a little too obvious.

What typically gets left out when this story has been disseminated (and it made national news) is that the Board did unanimously approve the hiring of Russell. Also left out is that when one listens to the audio it is clear that the line of questioning that Senator Clark Jolley called “archaic, misogynistic and deplorable” was made in a room full of laughter. Anyone who takes the time to actually investigate would know that Hazzell was at worst kidding on the square. Gilpin’s follow up suggestion of voting on a resolution that she not have the baby in April or May should have made that clear. Instead Barresi, sensing a political opportunity made sure to express shock and disgust for the official transcript.

The real issue is that Barresi does not like her boss. As a Republican, she wants to report to the current Governor, not as the state Constitution requires, a Board filled with appointees of the last Governor. From the beginning, she has made every effort to undermine the Board’s authority. For instance, the Board’s duties include making hires for the operation of the Department of Education. Barresi has been paying for the people she wants and Board might or might not have been willing to hire by paying them with outside funds. This is a problem. While it is nice to find non-taxpayer funding, in the end it creates a huge conflict of interest. Do these employees work for the state–as one would expect since they manage state employees–or do they work for Communities Foundation, the organization that is paying their salary? Then, do the employees taking orders from the people being paid by outside entities work in the best interest of the Communities Foundation or the voters?

Obviously, Barresi had to be creative because the Board found that the woman who is in charge of education for the state has little respect for what education signifies. They rejected three of her hires because they were found to be unqualified.

Likely the most stinging blow to Barresi was the rejection of her campaign manager as Chief of Staff. Not only did she want to install Jennifer Carter into a role that statutes require to have an advanced degree in education, Barresi intended to pay her more than the previous holder of that title who did meet the standard. One can debate whether the standards are too strict (Chief of Staff is a glorified administrator, not someone who teaches children), but the fact that Barresi attempted to hire Carter without first making an effort to change the job description meant that she was bound to clash. Attempting to hire Damon Gardenhire to be the fourth person with the title “Executive Director of Communications” and Jill Geiger, a low level employee at the Office of State Finance to be the chief financial officer overseeing the department’s $2.38 billion in appropriations (1/3 of the state budget) added more contention.

Of course, contention is what Barresi wanted. There was already discussion by the GOP controlled legislature of stripping the Board of all power. The heated meeting made it easier for that to happen. On Monday, the legislature’s education committee voted along party lines to allow a bill doing just that to go to the floor. With Republicans controlling both houses of the Legislature and the Executive branch, care to take any bets on if that will pass?

According to unapproved Communications Director Gardenhire, Barresi is “humbled” by the bill. My guess is that the correct term would be “emboldened.” The voters may not have intended to make her dictator, but that is exactly what she is about to become.


  1. I might be wrong, but I think getting rid of the OBE would require a vote of the people since it would be making changes to the state constitution. In otherwords, it will pass and then be shot down by the supreme court.

    • But the state supreme court is a body full of elected appointees a majority from the last administration. What is to stop the Governor and Legislature from listening to them? They might just introduce a bill to do away with them and to hell with the state constitution. (I think in their world you talk about the constitution, revere it, but in the end just use it for toilet paper or a paper towel to clean up the juice they spilled.)

  2. Clark, you did this topic great justice. I hope TLO readers see the downside to having a state superintendent who answers to no one. Barresi is a political opportunist who capitalized on this moment. Other than the people she has hired (or attempted to hire), she has very little contact with the staff at the SDE. She doesn’t understand the state’s testing program because she doesn’t have a background in education. She perpetuates the lie that public education is a failure with pockets of success (the converse is true). And our legislature and governor are going right along with her. This is not going to end well.

    • CO-SIGN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! She is so far out of touch and is not looking out for the children and doesn’t seem to give a rat’s ass about education and doesn’t know how or why she wants to improve our schools. People like her make me want to move away from Oklahoma. I hoped I would see more comments as this was VERY well written Clark. This lady is going to do more harm than good as she is more concerned with her personal agenda than anything else.

  3. Read OK Constitution XIII-5 “The supervision of instruction in the public schools shall be vested in a Board of Education, whose powers and duties shall be prescribed by law. The Superintendent of Public Instruction
    shall be President of the Board. . .”

    718 is nothing but the re-prescribing the powers and duties of the board through revision of the law which is the duty of the legislature.

    This Bill is not changing the Constitution and it is doing nothing which require a change to it. Rather, the Bill is doing explicitly what the Constitution intends for our elected lawmakers to do.

  4. Article XIII Section 5:

    Board of Education

    The supervision of instruction in the public schools shall be vested in a Board of Education, whose powers and duties shall be prescribed by law. The Superintendent of Public Instruction shall be President of the Board. Until otherwise provided by law, the Governor, Secretary of State, and Attorney General shall be ex-officio members, and with the Superintendent, compose said Board of Education.


    The scope of authority of the Board is determined by statute, rather than by the constitution. So, for good or for ill, the legislature can do exactly what it is doing with (to) the Board.

    They cannot eliminate the board, but they can turn it into a toothless consultative body.

  5. I hate to be the bearer of common sense but, both parties ( dems and repubs) are corrupt on equal footing… I don’t see what the big deal is. The prego in truth will most likely be ineffective but should be given the chance to perform regardless. Have there been marked improvements in state education during Garrets tenure….. not really 49th to 44th. Furthermore education qualifications are excuses for elitism….. I know and I’m sure some of you do as well, so called educated professionals that are dumb as stumps and have no business in the jobs they already are in, i.e. FAILIN. Fallin will be this states biggest joke since it’s creation. This subject and her involvement in it, are proof in it self.

    • “Fallin will be this states biggest joke since it’s creation. This subject and her involvement in it, are proof in it self.” Word of pure genius. What a joke.
      Major props to TLO for writing what I’ve been thinking and preaching for weeks!

  6. I am so glad someone finally wrote the truth, which has been impossible to find in any of the news stories that grace the daily rag or the local stations.

    Barresi doesn’t speak to the employees at the SDE, and I can guarantee that they are quite content to walk the other direction when they see her. She has NO idea what she’s doing when it comes to the education of our children, but she is absolutely hellbent on doing things HER way, whatever way that is. She has yet to detail that to anyone, as far as I know.

    I’ve seen the same look in other dictators’ eyes…

  7. From an outsider,(a registered independent)it looks like these politicians are just playing political games at the expense of our kids. Sorry to say but Oklahoma has crappy schools. It gets discouraging to hear new reports every year about our state being in the bottom. Barresi was hired by the people for a reason. The current board obviously hasn’t done their job the past 8 years, or maybe they are just have relaxed in their position of power and become lackadaisical. IMO, they should let Barresi put who she wants in position to help. If Barresi fails, she fails,and the schools continue on their current path of being ranked in the bottom, and she will be replaced.

    • I tire of derogatory comments about Oklahoma’s education outcomes being ranked at the bottom. True, we are 49th in per pupil expenditures, but what educational outcomes do we achieve for that expenditure of public funds? Education Week combines test scores into a composite index for each state. The US average is 76.2. Oklahoma? 76.1. A solid C. During the uproar over State Question 744 no one asked what seems to me like a very basic question. How do we compare on a performance basis with surrounding states? We are behind Arkansas (79.6), Texas (77.1), and New Mexico (76.9) but ahead of Kansas (73.3) and Missouri (72.4). Certainly with more money I think we could do better, but the return on our investment is pretty good right now.

  8. I understand that the position Jennifer Carter was nominated for requires that person to have an advanced degree in education, but Carter holds a Juris Doctorate. It’s not like she was nominated for the position with only a B.S. in Physical Education. I think it’s a little ridiculous to be a stickler for an actual education degree in an administrative role when a JD degree would more than suffice.

    I understand Clark’s point about the political game played by Fallin and Barresi, but to be fair, the BOE does this ALL THE TIME. They’re just playing the Democrat side of the game. The Board of Education has been a huge embarassment in this state for years. Personally, if Barresi wants to shake things up and try a change of pace, then let her try it. The current system doesn’t work and if she can’t fix it in four years, vote her out.

    The last thing the BOE is a Superintendent intended on maintaining the status quo.

    • Furthermore, the national average GPA for the “college of education” is 3.6. That means the “average” education major is on the dean’s honor roll. WTH? I wonder if it comes with a Lake Wobegone certificate “Where all the Kids are Above Average.” I’ll take “Attorneys for $500” Alex.

    • Fair enough, and I already argued your point that Carter probably should qualify for the position she was brought up for (except, as a lawyer, she probably already knew she didn’t meet the qualifications as written). That said, removing the only checks and balances that still remain for the Department of Education is a HORRIBLE precedent, and if the tables were turned, Republicans would be dressing up in Revolutionary clothing and holding misspelled signs to protest. Seriously, the legislating reduces the BOE’s authority to “providing suggestions.” Well, hell, I can provide suggestions–and considering that Barresi’s reaction to their actual authority was simply to keep employing the people they rejected…how do you think she’ll handle “advice”.

      Giving her four years of unchecked authority before the voters have another say is not something anyone should approve.

      • Oops. My sentiment was lost in my writing. I fully agree that the board should maintain it’s power and that she not be given a dictatorship. Likewise, I think that the board should have the power (should they choose) to approve the hiring of someone with a terminal degree who may have sufficient capacity, sans MS/ED Edu. I think the advanced edu requirement cannibalizes. Speaking of professionals and governing committees, the OK Bar Association has numerous non-attorney posts per their bylaws. However, I think the board should retain it’s power to approve/deny that and other issues. That we agree on.

      • I have to side with Clark on this one. While she should be able to nudge the education department in the direction she see’s fit (as she was elected to do), allowing her (or anyone in a position of political power) to do so unchecked is a scary proposition. There’s a reason our government is set up with three branches and a “checks and balances” system…it keeps us from giving anyone too much power.

        That being said, she should do what she thinks is necessary to fix the education problem in the state, but four years of doing so uninhibited is a scary thought.

      • Clark, what do you think the Board has been for the last 8 years? Surely you don’t think they have been “independent” from Garret and ex-Gov. Brad? You are not that naive. I do agree that the whole Rozell comment was taken out of context, but I agree with the other posters. Giver her what she wants (within reason) and see what she does with it. That is the reason she won. Many of us were sick and tired of the Garrett dictatorship (ask anyone who worked there – it WAS one).
        Also, “low-level” for Jill Geiger? She is/was a Budget Analyst at OSF. If she was responsible for the SDE budget, then she knows as much as any outsider about what goes on there.

  9. Everyone knows if you make enough money, you enroll your kids in private school anyway. Or you try to move to Oakdale or Nichols Hills, which are pretty much private schools.

  10. from the comments looks like the libs in OK dont like change, well of course it means more government control and libs in charge.

  11. When I played the audio of the meeting and heard Barresi yell something like “the voters gave me a mandate” I spewed beer on my computer monitor. Since when did 56% of the vote become some supermajority?

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