Hofmeister Reflects On First Year Of Being OK State Superintendent

Tuesday, January 12th 2016, 1:35 pm
By: Grant Hermes

Tuesday marked one year for Joy Hofmeister's tenure as state superintendent. Her inaugural year was full of educational ups and downs.

“We don't have time to stand still or tread water. We need to move forward,” Hofmeister said Tuesday morning in the News 9 studio.

She was talking about four-day school weeks not showing enough promise, but it can also be taken as the rallying cry for Oklahoma schools; Hofmeister’s vision for 2016.

But 2015 was marked by a list of problems. An historic teacher shortage, rising class sizes and deep budget cuts, that could total more than $65 million by next month, are all problems that plagued the embattled education system. When asked, Hofmeister agreed they were frustrating, most of all the state’s budget.

“It is always going to be frustrating, as it is to the legislature, as it always is, when they feel that they've been stripped of the ability to address needs,” Hofmeister said.

Last week, the State Board of Education approved a $47 million cut from funding taking $25 million from the state funding formula and cutting nearly 7 percent from the support of public activities fund.

The deep cut allowed the board to shift money to other accounts with the hopes of lessening the blow to schools.  An estimated $19 million is expected to be cut in February.

The cuts have prompted educators and Hofmeister to say some schools may be forced to close as money becomes scarce.

Fixing school A-F report cards was one of Hofmesiter's top priorities on the campaign trail, but it's one that's hit road blocks at the federal level forcing teachers to wait on new standards.

Her administration was forced to release last year’s grades by law, but did so with a disclaimer. She said she expects to have new metrics worked out by next year, but was unclear on what changes would be made.

She also ran on reducing the number of tests and against Common Core.

After the state repealed the standardized system, Hofmeister said her office began working on replacing those exams and expects to have the final draft delivered to lawmakers on the first day of session, Feb. 1.

Hofmeister ran on a stick-and-carrot approach to teachers, dovetailing accountability and raising teacher pay. But the latter is one that has may be at a full stop as the teacher shortage continues to loom alongside budget cuts.

Hofmeister acknowledged there are dozens of other plans hoping to solve problems with teacher pay and retention, but stopped short backing a specific plan, including the one cent sales tax approved by the Oklahoma Supreme Court Tuesday.

“[The one cent plan] is one of several of the options or possible solutions that are possibilities that are out there and we applaud anyone who wants to be a part of solving this,” she said.

But it hasn't been all bad. The superintendent praised the creativity and innovation being done in schools across the state and said she was able to bring more voices to the table for collaboration.

“We know that Oklahomans are going to make certain that we take care of our kids and I'm going to be right there with them,” she said.