State schools Superintendent Janet Barresi drew sharp criticism this week — on Facebook — when it was revealed that she denied a request that would have helped cash-strapped Moore Public Schools as it continues to recover from the deadly tornadoes and storms that struck in May.
During an informal phone conversation following the storms, Barresi said she was asked by a Moore school official if the district could have its state aid spread out over 12 months instead of the usual 11 months.
The move would have freed up roughly $5 million for the district, which is struggling with cash-flow issues in the wake of May's violent weather.
The state Education Department denied the request, prompting a Moore district high school teacher to post a scathing rant against Barresi on a Facebook page with ties to schoolteachers.
Thousands of people responded to the post, sending it to their friends and posting hundreds of comments of their own.
Barresi said the informal request made by Robert Romines, who will become superintendent of Moore Public Schools on July 1, wasn't granted because Oklahoma law calls for “an 11-month payout schedule” for state aid.
The superintendent also said there was no money available to give Moore Public Schools — or any other district.
“It's not that I didn't want to do it,” Barresi said. “We're prohibited by statute from doing that ... and there were no funds in the coffers to do that.”
Barresi said the Education Department did offer Moore school officials the chance to participate in a program that allows distressed school districts to borrow money at a low interest rate.
Romines said Moore school officials decided not to participate in the so-called “cash management” program.
“There's interest attached to it,” he said. “And I ... don't care how low the interest rate is. This school district is not about borrowing money and going about things that way.
“That did not make sense to us, and we declined the offer.”
Romines said the proposal he made to Barresi on behalf of Moore Public Schools was simple and wouldn't have placed a burden on any of the parties involved.
“We did not make the request for any additional monies,” he said. “The request that we put out there would not have cost the state department money, it would not have cost the treasury money and it would not have cost the district money.
“It basically would have allowed us to get some of our allocation 30 days earlier.”
Elise Robillard, the French teacher at Westmoore High School who penned the remarks directed at Barresi, said she felt like she “had to” write something when she learned that an informal funding request made by Moore Public Schools had been denied by the state agency.
Robillard's remarks, posted on a Facebook page called “Teachers Need to Take Over the OK Legislature,” had been read and shared by more than 4,500 users as of Friday evening.
“I had to do it,” Robillard said of her 176-word note, which was posted Tuesday. “I can criticize the superintendent because I don't have to work with her all the time.”
In the note, Robillard warns readers that Barresi is up for re-election soon and criticizes the superintendent for offering Moore Public Schools a place in the “cash management” program.
“Janet Barresi visited Moore Public Schools in the tornado aftermath to address the teachers, staff, and administrators of the district,” she wrote. “She said that if there was anything she could do for them, just let her know. So they did.”
Later in the note, she wrote, “What was Janet Barresi's response? NO!”
Tricia Pemberton, a spokeswoman for the state Education Department, said Barresi and her staff have reached out to critics on social-networking websites.
“We have seen the social media posts and have tried reaching out to the individuals that started the negative posts, but have not heard back from them,” Pemberton said.
“Unfortunately, these rumors appear to have been started by individuals in the teacher's union who are unhappy with Superintendent Barresi on a political level.”
A month after a massive EF5 tornado tore through Moore and destroyed two elementary schools and heavily damaged other school sites, district officials are still evaluating the supersized disaster area.
“The estimates have not been determined,” Romines said. “We've got FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) here, we've got insurance folks here ... we've got many groups of folks here doing that for us.”
Damage totals for Moore Public Schools are expected to soar well into eight figures. Romines said two schools were destroyed and numerous others sustained serious damage.
“In a district this size, it's going to take some time to come to a damage estimate,” he said.
Romines said he doesn't have any hard feelings about the request.
“I've heard that teachers are upset the request we made was denied and I'm sorry to hear that,” he said. “But we're about moving forward ... and getting our schools open for Aug. 16 ... that first day of school.”
It's not that I didn't want to do it. We're prohibited by statute from doing that.”
state school superintendent