Oklahoma City superintendent calls council's comments on taking over district 'disrespectful'

Discussion among the Oklahoma City Council about having a heavier hand in running the city's school district evoked outrage and vocal opposition Wednesday from school officials.
BY MEGAN ROLLAND Modified: October 7, 2010 at 8:15 am •  Published: October 7, 2010
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Oklahoma City School District officials responded with outrage Wednesday to a discussion city council members had about taking over the school district as a possible solution to lagging student achievement.

Superintendent Karl Springer called the discussion and attitudes reported in The Oklahoman "disrespectful" of the school district and the eight elected officials who govern the district.

"To disrespect them is to disrespect the concept of elected officials, not just one, but our entire body of elected officials. To me, that is unacceptable," Springer said.

"The most frustrated person in the state of Oklahoma about the lack of progress in Oklahoma City Public Schools is me. I have discovered things in this district on a daily basis that have needed to be fixed, some little, some huge. We've made a lot of progress on that list."

The discussion

City council members met Tuesday to discuss big-picture goals for Oklahoma City — including improved education.

Council members expressed frustration that the inner-city district has made few academic gains in the 10 years since the MAPS for Kids assessment called for both improved school facilities and improved education quality within the buildings.

The building projects, funded by the voter approved $700 million MAPS for Kids sales tax, are nearing completion. Yet an assessment in February by the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools found that the district was "unsatisfactory" or "needed improvement" in almost all of the academic priorities established in 2001 by the MAPS task force.

"I think the city has some responsibility here in taking them to task," Ward 6 Councilwoman Meg Salyer said in the city meeting.

Suggestions for intervention included creating a task force to work closely with the school board, holding joint meetings, or even having the city taking over the district in some form of shared governance.

The last suggestion evoked a strong response from people working with the school district.

"I was really disappointed and somewhat frustrated, particularly because the mayor and I have fairly regular discussions. Our most recent was Tuesday, a week ago," board Chairman Angela Monson said. "I've been in office for 18 months now. I wish we could have just changed it on a dime, but we're there and we're getting ready to make big changes in our district."

Monson said she asked the mayor Wednesday not to pursue a task force, but rather to sit down with the school board during an already planned strategic planning process.