Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What's Good for the Goose...? If Sandy Did It, Janet Will Too.

 
I found a very surprising article in today's paper (3/20/2012), "Current State Education Department Officials Used Funds From Nonprofit Foundation". This, after the breaking story last week "Oklahoma Education Department Spent $2.3 Million Through Slush Funds, Audit Claims" about State Superintendent Janet Barresi's predecessor, Sandy Garrett.

Let's do some brief analysis here by breaking down each event separately so we can compare:

SANDY GARRET'S ADMINISTRATION:
  • 2 accounts found totaling 2.3 million over the course of 10 years
  • Monies were collected from private sources to fund two events/year = Encyclomedia and The Superintendent's Annual Leadership Conference
  • Non-profit Oklahoma Curriculum Improvement Commission held both accounts composed of private funds 
  • Monies transferred in 2010 to Oklahoma State School Boards Association (a non-profit association) who managed the accounts for 25,000/yr fee (Barresi closed and had remaining 783.51 deposited into Foundation for Innovation in Education account though Communications Director Damon Gardenhire said initially they did not - they were deposited in a revolving fund - oops?)
  • Former Republican State Chairman, auditor Gary Jones, maintains both accounts were "off book" and unknown to the boards of either OCIC or OSSBA
  • Donations to the accounts made by vendors that had, "multimillion contracts with the Education Department for various education services"
  • Donations went to pay for "alcohol, food and lodging" including a chocolate fountain and kegs of beer
    • Food and alcohol at at 2005 reception cost $12,694 

JANET BARRESI'S ADMINISTRATION:

  • 1 account found with no dollar figure given according to the Oklahoman but possibly $213,747 over the course of 1 year (right about 2.3 million over 10 years at that rate)
  • Monies were collected from private sources to fund Innovation 2011
  • Non-profit Foundation for Innovation in Education held the account composed of private funds
  • Foundation board (paper did not indicate how board members were chosen) managed the account 
  • Finances handled by CPA (Pam Pollard, Vice-Chair of the Republican Party)
  • It is unclear how Foundation board members were chosen but board dissolved directly after meeting was held
  • Origination of donations to account not disclosed by the Oklahoman
  • Auditor Gary Jones said he knows about Barresi's account, but did not look into it.
  • Donations went to pay for vendor space, rooms, convention space and audio gear (as per the Oklahoman, totaling approximately $154,226)
    • Food (without alcohol) for reception and superintendent's lunch cost $12,612

I think we can stop there, as I hope most everyone is getting the picture. Apparently, misdeeds are in the eye of whomever's party is represented by the person sitting in the chair!

Yes, there has been impropriety alleged by the OSDE under the tutelage of Sandy Garrett. Here is an interesting blog alleging firsthand (hearsay) knowledge of such impropriety. Certainly, one can peruse the entire State Auditor's report for themselves to determine exactly how far reaching was this alleged "corruption" at Garrett's OSDE.

I think two things are important to note here:
  1. This sounds just like the VERY PARTISAN stink that was raised over Janet Barresi's initial meeting with her board that led to Republicans running to her aid and producing legislation (before the air had even cleared) to give her power over her board. (As a side note, I tend to agree with the opinion of this blogger on that issue)
  2. Janet Barresi - as her first order of business as State Superintendent - funded no less than THREE STATE employees with PRIVATE funds. The board asked that the AG's opinion be sought on the legality of the matter of the hires, but Barresi simply blocked the motion (in imperious fashion) during the regular board meeting. Senator Andrew Rice then asked for a ruling instead. AG Pruitt ruled AGAINST Barresi, calling the hires (who had been working in the department prior to the board meeting at which they were to be approved for hire - against state law) "usurper(s) who lacks the authority to carry out the official duties of the State".
Where is the persecution/prosecution of/for Dr. Barresi? Why does she get a 'pass'? Blind allegiance by members of her own party to the party?

I am closing with the comment I made to Megan Rolland's article of today:

Wait...did nobody digest the fact that the State Department of Education - through a Foundation OF THEIR OWN CREATION (members of which were hand picked by the Department and not an outside group) pay for VENDOR rooms and space? WHAT? So I can essentially go to one of these great "INNOVATION IN EDUCATION" meetings (paid for by a private entity) as a vendor and not only retain the money from the goods/services I am selling but also be TREATED to a room and free vendor space? Does that not just trip anyone's sense of sensibility there?
No wonder some of the attendees I spoke with felt as though they were there to be 'sold' on different items, not to become 'educated' on current teaching practices. So was this 'convention' for educational purposes or to scratch the backs of vendors so the OSDE can get back-door deals?
Let's not forget as well, that the OSDE had a PRIVATE agency pay for the salaries of two employees that the Board didn't like. Where's the accountability for a STATE FUNDED agency if they simply solicit private funds to do whatever they like?
Sorry, I'm a Republican and this doesn't look good at all for our team. What old saying applies here? "Judge not lest ye be judged?", "Do unto others..."?, ["What's good for the goose is good for the gander"?]

Friday, March 16, 2012

Legislative Shenanigans - A Lesson in Civics From House Bill 2762 by Lee Denney

From the day House Bill 2762 by Lee Denney and its mirror bill SB1797 by Clark Jolley were placed on committee calendars, ROPE has been warning about these bills.

As you know, ROPE does not support the Common Core State Standards for numerous reasons. From the day we found out they had been added to Oklahoma's copious education laws in 2010, we have attempted to generate awareness regarding the federal overreach of education this 'initiative' represents. Recently, we launched our campaign called, "ObamaEd", in order to educate even more citizens and legislators about the lack of control they will have over OKLAHOMA education as these standards become fully entrenched in our state's educational system by 2014.

HB2762 and SB1797 were bills penned by the Governor's office (Representative Lee Denney admits this much on the floor during debate of the bill, Thursday, March 15, 2012) in order to put into law requirements from the Obama Administration's NCLB waiver our Governor and Superintendent requested. In fact, Oklahoma's NCLB waiver was CONDITIONAL on instituting a number of different reforms to our current system

As she noted, many proposed large-scale efforts to train their educators in the new academic standards, create or oversee development of new instructional resources, and redesign their testing systems.
though few Oklahoma administrators/educators appear to happy about the lack of local control NCLB waivers represent

“I am in favor of local control, and while I think this waiver takes a step toward that, it still does not offer local school districts local control. I believe that no one knows the needs of Broken Arrow students better than the citizens of Broken Arrow. Educators, parents and citizens should be allowed to determine what’s best for their community school, and the waiver does not allow for that,” Mendenhall said.
and organizations like Heritage Foundation and the Pioneer Institute have called an illegal and unconstitutional federal overreach into education.

Yet, our 'conservative' Governor and Superintendent have persisted, culminating their efforts in these two bills which address a number of different NCLB waiver factors including "teacher preparation" and "redesign of testing systems". The latter has been of great concern to us, as the Superintendent (Governor) needs to change the manner in which Oklahoma tests students. She needs to move Oklahoma tests from being locally developed (as has historically been done) to being developed by PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of College and Careers), the tests which are designed to specifically test for the Common Core Standards. All of the reasons we have elucidated as to why we disagree with this change can be found here, so I will not reiterate those here.

ROPE wants to make you aware of the process in legislating these bills, as not only does this serve as a valuable lesson in civics, but it shows you the kind of activities one could only describe as shenanigans, that our legislative process seems to invite.

SENATE BILL:
  • Once we found out about the bill and specifically the change from NAEP to PARCC accountability for testing, we contacted Clark Jolley, author of the senate bill and told him our concerns.
  • The bill passed out of the Senate Education Committee and into the Senate Appropriations Committee.
  • Senator Jolley filed an amendment in Appropriations to remove the new language and keep the bill's existing language (PARCC not added, NAEP kept). 
  • The bill then passed the Senate 39 to 0.
 HOUSE BILL:
  • Once we found the language in the House bill, we contacted Rep. Denney and explained our concerns. 
  • The bill was heard in the Higher Education and Career Tech committee which Denney chairs (as a side note, request bills are often authored by committee chairs in order for the bill to be heard in committee - our bill repealing the Common Core from state law - HB1714 - authored by Rep. Sally Kern, was NOT heard in the Common Ed Committee for two years in a row.)
  • The bill passed out of Committee as a 29 page bill on February 16.
  • After passage, Representative Denney told us the bill was being 'worked on' by the Governor's office and she couldn't do anything to it until that process was over.
  • March 13th, the bill was placed on the Floor Calendar (to be considered by vote of the House) as a 182 page bill labeled as a FLOOR AMENDMENT.
  • ROPE began sending out Legislative Alerts asking for citizens to contact their Representative and ask them to vote NO on the bill, based upon our analysis. We also lobbied the House Wed., March 13 and asked for their NO vote.
  • Though the bill was not able to be heard until after 3:15 - due to the presence of the Floor Amendment on the bill (allowing members 'time' to read it - 'time' because how does one READ a 180-something page bill in 48 hours with all the others they have to read?), yet the bill was brought up for a vote around 9am! This, is a tactic - though illegal according to rules - to get legislators to vote for something before they have a chance to read it and discuss it! Thank you to Representative Mike Reynolds for bringing this to the attention of the Pro Temp!
  • Thursday, March 15, the bill came to the floor. When it became clear that Rep. Denney was NOT going to have the votes for her bill - due to EXCELLENT and SUSTAINED questioning by Representatives Kern, Holland and Blackwell - and EXCELLENT debate by Holland and Blackwell - Denney was apparently told (lots of activity at her desk - visits by the Pro Temp, Jeff Hickman and lots of texting) to "lay over" the bill.
  • If a bill is laid over, the language can be taken from that bill and put into another bill  - as in the one authored by Clark Jolley that has ALREADY PASSED THE SENATE.
  • If the bill had been voted on and voted down, the bill - including all that 150 pages of new language - would be DEAD.
We urge you to take the time to watch the full presentation of Rep. Denney's bill. Though Representative Denney has been very good to take time to listen to our arguments surrounding the bill and our objections to Common Core, she misrepresents the change from NAEP to PARCC on several occasions during her portion of the debate before the bill was laid over.

It is also well worth the time to listen to Representatives Holland and Blackwell debate AGAINST this bill. These men truly understand the damage which can be inflicted upon Oklahoma by voting to change from testing descriptors (and tests) we have used for decades and which we have developed locally to tests that have YET TO BE DEVELOPED.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. Please continue to watch SB1797. You can do that by joining the LENS bill tracker, typing in bill number SB1797 and reading the emails the tracker sends you as the bill moves through the legislative process. You can also join our email list and we will send out Legislative Action Alerts for this and other bills that will inevitably crop up before May 25 when our legislature adjourns.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Conundrum of Oklahoma Legislative Committee Chairs

Super Tuesday Quick Quiz

Oklahoma legislative committee chairs can be classified as:
a. Dictatorial Lemmings?
b. Water-carrying shills for Republican leadership?
c. Basically nice people just trying to do a job while forced into a corner by legislative rules?
d. Spineless blobs only able to function legislatively if leadership is giving them cover?
e. All of the above

As writer of the quiz, my answer is 'e'. 

Sadly, I find it hard not to be cynical about the whole legislative process anymore. After waking up to the impending doom that is our current state of unconstitutional over government three years ago, I have been an involved citizen lobbyist at the state capitol - primarily for ROPE on education issues. 

Since researching the Common Core State Standards initiative last year, ROPE has attempted to have them repealed from state law through HB1714 by Sally Kern

For TWO YEARS in a row, however, ROPE has been shut out of the DEMOCRATIC process by House Education Committee Chair Ann Coody. 

Last year (2011), Representative Coody said she would not hear HB1714 in her committee because Senator John Ford, Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, would refuse to hear it in his committee [should it pass the House Education Committee and the House membership and move to the Senate side, where it would be be assigned to the Senate Education Committee]. 

Though both ROPE and Representative Kern spoke to Representative Coody and asked her to reconsider her decision, she simply continued to argue that it made no difference whether she heard the bill or not - if Senator Ford wouldn't hear the bill in his committee, HB1714 was destined for holdover status yet another year*.

This year (though we found out we had already missed the deadline for bills to be heard in committee) we went to Senator Ford to ask him again to hear our bill.

We attended all 3 hours of the Senate Appropriations Committee meeting Wednesday, February 29 [to make sure SB1797 was amended to keep NAEP testing accountability - and it was], and waited to catch Senator Ford before lunch. We left the committee meeting room, but Senator Ford stayed behind for nearly 20 minutes talking to Joel Robison, Janet Barresi's Chief of Staff [who was with taxpayer paid lobbyist Jessica Russel - also of the Department of Education]. 

After he finished talking (leaving Joel, Jessica, Damon Gardenhire - also of the Dept. of Ed. - and Education Secretary Phyllis Hudecki to powow seriously in the adjacent board room), we caught the Senator and were ushered down the hall into his office. There, we were told politely, but firmly that he would NOT hear our bill. 

Of course we assailed him with all our reasons why the Common Core would be devastating for Oklahoma taxpayers and students, but for naught. It was clear the taxpayer funded OSDE lobbyist and our new education 'establishment', led by Obama-grant-seeking Dr. Barresi, were not going to allow any silly citizen lobbyist/researchers to derail the plan for Oklahoma to be eaten alive by the federal education machine.

Dejected and disgusted, we went back to the House side, where we met with Representative Gus Blackwell - ALSO running a bill attacking the Common Core, HB2624, that had ALSO been blocked from a hearing by Representative Coody. 

An ex-ProTem, Gus knows quite a lot about legislative rules. While we sat in his office, Gus pulled his bill from the House Education Committee and set about to have it signed out of committee.* Three of us (Jenni, Lynn and Julia) stayed in the lobby of the House for nearly 2 hours talking to House Education Committee members - attempting to get them to sign off on the bill and gain it the hearing it deserved in the House.

Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful. Though we had gotten verbal commitments from many that afternoon, many committee members backed away from signing in the end, refusing to "go against leadership" and risk having any future bills blocked from a hearing in Common Ed. 

For the last two legislative years, ROPE has been told by several senators that they wouldn't work with us because it had been made plain if they did, Senator Ford would refuse to hear any of their bills in his committee. Obviously, this was nothing new to us. Obviously, it was extremely disappointing and frustrating.

How does this happen? How does the voice of the people simply become INERT? How does By the People, For the People, Of the People become, By the Chairman, for the Republican Leadership, Of the Political Establishment? 

Easy really. The PEOPLE quit showing up and taking part a LONG time ago, and left alone to their own devices, their representatives became kings and queens of their own little fiefdoms supported by lobbyists - private and tax-funded alike. Now that many of us have awakened and are ready for responsive government, we have found that the Kings and Queens are not disposed to being deposed.

Are we giving up? ABSOLUTELY NOT! In fact, ROPE has a plan up its sleeve as I write. I will be posting on our ObamaEd campaign tonight!

Tomorrow we will descend upon the Capitol to finish getting signatures on a discharge petition for Charles Key's Open Government bill, HR1004, providing that every bill get a committee hearing. I don't anticipate a warm and fuzzy response from a number of legislators, but it's important to remember that we live in a country governed BY THE PEOPLE FOR THE PEOPLE OF THE PEOPLE and THE PEOPLE are the only ones who can get it back!


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* [when bills are unheard by committee chairs, or failed to be assigned to a committee by the Speaker of the House or the Senate ProTem for whatever reason (usually because they are found controversial in one way or another or the Governor or another official doesn't want them, they sit on the books without action and can be brought up again next year as a holdover]
* this is a similar maneuver to the "discharge petition". If a bill can not be heard in committee, it can be pulled from the committee and submitted to each of the members of that committee for consideration. If 2/3 of the committee (which also includes the Speaker and ProTem) agrees that the bill should be heard on the floor, the committee members in agreement sign off on the bill and it is sent to the House floor for a vote.