Friday, January 27, 2012

Deception, NOT Excellence in Oklahoma Education

Or…Short Memories Allow Business As Usual in Public School ‘Reform’

How would you feel if I told you that taxpayers are paying the salary for a man at the Department of Education who committed voter fraud in a school board election

Many conservatives were astounded when our new REPUBLICAN State Superintendent of Education, Janet Barresi hired the lobbyist for the OklahomaEducation Association (OEA – Oklahoma’s branch of national NEA) as her chief of staff.  In fact, while I have written many a blog detailing ROPE’s disagreements and frustrations with Dr. Barresi’spolicies from a Conservative perspective, even we Conservatives understand public education MUST be a particularly bi-partisan issue. The move to hire Mr. Robison, however, simply didn’t pass the smell test. 

What I found recently, is simply MIND BOGGLING, and explains why.

April 12th, 1988 framed a particularly divisive school board election in Oklahoma City Public Schools.  Arthur Stellar, then-OKC Public Schools (OKCPS) Superintendent, had recently been given a $6,200 annual pay and benefits increase by existing school board members.

This did not sit well with the OCFT (Oklahoma City Federation of Teachers – local arm of the American Federation of Teachers) who vowed to defeat the three incumbent board members up for reelection that year.  In addition, the OKCPS teachers would be deciding their union of representation May 18. The OCFT had held bargaining rights for teachers since 1977, surviving four previous challenges from rival union OEA-OKC, and teachers would once again be deciding their fate in mere weeks.

Betty Hill, sitting President of the Board (general manager of Jim Hill Heating and Cooling Co. at the time), was the only one of the three who chose to run under these conditions. Her opponent was OCFT-endorsed, Jesse Isbell, a Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. Employee. 

Isbell received 437 district votes. Hill’s total was 305. This forced a runoff election which was to be held on May 3, 1988.

Elections for districts 4 and 5 resulted in elections for OCFT-endorsed candidates, indicating little more than a planned union takeover of the board.

BUT WAIT! Ted Metscher, president of the OCFT and Joel Robison, president of the state AFT (and a physical education teacher within the system) were BOTH found to have voted in the April election while LIVING OUTSIDE THE OKC public school district! Both men were listed on the polling record for Mark Twain Elementary School. Both men listed the business office of the OKFT as their addresses, though Metscher lived in Norman and Robison in Bethany. 

Oklahoma law requires that voters list their home addresses, and the Oklahoma County prosecutor at the time (), publically stated that using a business address to register a vote was a violation of both misdemeanor and felony laws.

Both men actually admitted to voting ILLEGALLY, citing their voter fraud as simple “mistake”.
Metscher was quoted as saying, “My statement is it is a mistake and it’s been corrected. I’m reregistered and I’m sorry.”

Robison said, “I’m not going to say I didn’t realize. It was just a mistake.”

Union members ALSO committing voter fraud in the election were Joel Robison’s wife, Donna (a special education teacher at Classen Fifth-Grade Center), and Georgia Ianello, the former head of the OCFT (who lived in the Putnam City School district).

Though the OCFT placed information in teachers’ school mailboxes BEFORE the election including individual district maps, 35 people who lived outside the boundary lines for District 3 voted in that election, including 8 Oklahoma City schoolteachers, and one principal.

As one commentary in the Oklahoman stated (April 28, 1988), “…it is incredible that people involved in educating children should demonstrate ignorance of, or perhaps disdain for, such a fundamental principle of the democratic process as the sanctity of the vote. With that caliber of union leadership, it is not hard to imagine the kind of school board Oklahoma City would have if it should come totally under union control.”

By April 30th, Both Metscher and Robison had resigned their AFT posts and lost their union salaries as the OSBI began to investigate “voter registration fraud”. 

Betty Hill won re-election to her post in District 3, May 3 with 53% of the vote. 

May 18th, OKCPS teachers elected OEA-OKC to represent them as their bargaining agent.

In early June, a more than 230-page OSBI report focused on the actions of Robison and his wife, Donna, Metscher and Ianello was delivered to the district attorney’s office allowing OK County DA Robert Macy to file criminal charges. Though all four were found to have fraudulently cast their votes in the April 12th election, all were accused only of the misdemeanor charge of “willfully and knowingly” voting illegally in an OKCPS election. The maximum punishment was to be 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Arthur Stellar, OKCPS then-Superintendent explained that OKCPS actions “could run the gamut from an oral reprimand to termination,” but also indicated that no action would be taken against the teachers until the outcome of the case had been determined.

Macy’s decision frustrated many, including Hill and then-OKCPS board President Kay Floyd who said, “I worry about the message that sends to kids, the public, everybody…I have a problem with them being in the classroom.”

The second week of July, Robison, his wife Donna, and Ianello faced their first court appearances on their misdemeanor charges.

In August, both Joel and Donna Robison had resigned their teaching positions and moved to Wichita, Kansas.

By October 18, 1988, the Robisons were given each a 30-day suspended sentence and fined $1,000 (the maximum fine allowed) after reaching an agreement with prosecutors. Each wrote in a court affidavit: “I voted in a school election in a district or precinct in which I did not reside.”

Today, after serving many years as the Chief Lobbyist for OEA, Joel Robison, a man convicted of voter fraud in a school board election tainted by overt union dealings, is the Chief of Staff for the Oklahoma State Superintendent.

Yes, all of us have made/will make mistakes in our lives. Yes, certainly as a Christian one should extend grace and forgiveness. Yes, those who make mistakes must go on to lead their lives in a fruitful, meaningful way and we must allow them to do so.

Mr. Robison could have continued anywhere as a physical education teacher, yet he came back to Oklahoma, switched union allegiance, continued on in union employ and was then put in a position to lobby on behalf of ALL Oklahoma taxpayers for issues affecting our children in public school. Mr. Robison broke the public trust and is now helping to oversee the agency charged with KEEPING the public trust.

We think THAT is stepping over the line.

Resources available from the NewsOk archives under the following titles:

Teachers’ Union Officials Crash School Election, Chris Brawley, April 27, 1988
Records Show 35 Crossed School Election Boundaries, Chris Brawley, Chip Minty, April 27, 1988
Bad Omen for School Board, Editorial, April 28, 1988
OSBI Opens City School Vote Probe, Chris Brawley, April 28, 1988
Oklahoma School Board Candidate Undaunted by Suspect Votes, Chris Casteel, April 29, 1988
More Ineligible School Voters Named, Chris Brawley, April 30, 1988
Runoff Vote to End Hot School Contest, Chris Brawley, May 2, 1988
Union Blameless, Leader Claims, Chris Brawley, May3, 1988
School Board President Re-Elected, Chris Brawley, May 4, 1988
State Official Urges Revision of School Election Laws, Chris Brawley, May 9, 1988
Unions Seeking Backers in City’s School System Teachers, Support Personnel to Choose, Chris Brawley, May 15, 1988
Teacher Union Presidents Quit After Probe Starts, Chris Brawley, April 30, 1988
OSBI Files Report on Possible Fraud, Chris Brawley, June 12, 1988
Criminal Charges Planned in School Election Fraud Probe, Nolan Clay, July 6, 1988
Illegal Voting Charge Filed on Teachers, Chris Brawley, Nolan Clay, July 8, 1988
3 Teachers in Court on Election Charges, Editorial, July 12, 1988
Vote Fraud Suspect Unaware of Restrictions, Attorney Says, July 16, 1988
Board Member Concerned Over Teachers’ Jobs, Chris Brawley, September 1, 1988
Jury to Hear Case Against City Teachers, Nolan Clay, September 23, 1988
Teachers Enter Pleas of Guilty in Voting Case, Nolan Clay, October 18, 1988
Ex-Teachers Fined for Illegal Voting, Nolan Clay, October 14, 1988
Teachers Should Accept Blame, Editorial, October 21, 1988
Teachers Disciplined Confidentially, Chris Brawley, November 1, 1988