AN answer to the question of whether state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi can keep two employees who were rejected by the state Board of Education last month can't come soon enough. Next week, the board has its second meeting under Barresi's direction. A repeat of January's theatrics would be unacceptable, although an encore performance would hardly be a surprise.
Barresi has kept chief of staff Jennifer Carter and communications director Damon Gardenhire as her personal employees by paying them with private donations through a foundation that wants to support education reform efforts.
Barresi said the board's rejection of the employees, and the protests that paying them with private money might be illegal, have slowed her efforts to transform the department. Too bad the protests are so blatantly disingenuous and politically tinged.
Two board members in particular, Tim Gilpin and Herb Rozell, each Democratic Party stalwarts, led the fight against approving the hires. Now Sen. Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City, has asked the Republican attorney general to review of the pay arrangement made by a Republican superintendent.
A little homework on the part of Education Department employees found that in the last five years under former Superintendent Sandy Garrett, a Democrat, the state board never rejected a proposed hire. The vast majority of employees were only brought before the board after they had been hired or weren't subject to any board review.
To change that practice only after Barresi was elected is more than coincidence. It's clear partisanship, and has led GOP lawmakers to pursue ideas to either reconstitute the board or strip it of its supervisory powers.
The restructuring proposals could have serious consequences and deserve thorough consideration. But this much is certain: Concerns that a change would give Barresi too much power and disrupt check and balances are off base. Much of what Barresi wants to institute, including letter grades for schools, must get through the Legislature. While Barresi certainly will benefit from a Republican majority, her ideas aren't likely to pass without objections and discussion. And let's not ignore that at the national level, it's Democrats leading the way on education reform.
Meantime, public education should continue to embrace private-public partnerships. Existing joint efforts are most obvious in the early childhood arena but also benefit older students who get hands-on experience in various careers and teachers and schools who receive privately funded grants for a variety of projects. “Thank you” would be a more appropriate response to those who want to help.
Oklahoma has huge challenges to overcome when so many students aren't achieving as well as they should in math, reading and science. Time spent on power struggles and fussing over personnel matters gets Oklahoma no closer to overcoming those challenges. It's time wasted when too much time has already been lost.