Legislation that would require administrative duties in some of Oklahoma's smaller school districts to be consolidated was among the subjects debated on the latest edition of “Your Vote Counts.”
Also reviewed was the decision to ban the Redskins as the Capitol Hill mascot. The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association was evaluated for the second consecutive week.
Another topic was the recent claim by the New York Times that Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is among several Republican attorneys general who have formed “an unprecedented secretive alliance with some of the nation's top energy producers to push back” against Obama administration environmental regulators.
Moderator Scott Mitchell focused attention on recently filed legislation that would require smaller school districts to combine their administrative duties.
Senate Bill 15, the “Rural Education Empowerment Act,” would require the administrative services of an independent school district that has an average daily membership of fewer than 250 to be combined with a contiguous school district or districts “upon the retirement, resignation or departure by other means” of the superintendent. The measure further decrees that the administrative services of an elementary school district that has an ADM of fewer than 250 “shall be combined” with a contiguous school district or districts “upon the retirement, resignation or departure by other means” of the superintendent.
The legislation defines “administrative services” to mean “the duties of any employee of a school district employed as a superintendent, assistant superintendent, director, coordinator, supervisor and the duties of any employee who has responsibility for administrative functions of a school district, including but not limited to human resources, purchasing, accounting and information technology.” The bill provides that administrative services “shall not mean the duties of principals or assistant principals.”
SB 15 declares that nothing in the measure “shall be construed to require the closing of any school or school facility.” Oklahoma has approximately 531 public school districts.
Since about half of the state budget is devoted to education (public schools, CareerTech and state colleges/universities), “I have tried to reduce overhead” in schools by “taking money away from bureaucrats and putting it in the classrooms,” said state Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City, the author of SB 15.
Rep. Richard Morrissette pointed out that according to the State Department of Education, school administrative costs statewide constituted only 3.54% of school district expenditures in Fiscal Year 2013. In comparison, state law authorizes administrative costs of 5%-8% of total district expenditures.
The Oklahoma City Democrat also reminded the audience that administrative salaries are the province of locally elected school boards. “That's local control,” he said, which Republicans profess to embrace.
The Oklahoma Legislature will convene at noon on Jan. 6 to organize, and the four-month regular session will start on Feb. 2.
Both legislators blistered the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association for its role in the Douglass-Locust Grove playoff football game.
The OSSAA rejected the appeal of a referee's erroneous ruling that wiped out a Douglass go-ahead touchdown with only 1:04 remaining in the Class 3A quarterfinal playoff game against Locust Grove on Nov. 28. The botched ruling enabled Locust Grove to win the contest.
District Judge Bernard Jones declined Thursday to resolve the dispute. “There is neither statute nor case law allowing this court discretion to order the replay of a high school football game,” the jurist wrote. “Courts not ought meddle in these activities or others, especially when the parties have agreed to be bound by and have availed themselves to the governance of these activities' associations,” the judge added.
Subsequently Locust Grove lost to Heritage Hall in the semifinal game Friday night.
Douglass students “got robbed” in their quest for a state championship, Morrissette asserted. An officials' supervisor “who has read and understands the rules” should be present at playoff games, he recommended, so that bad calls by referees can be reversed in a timely manner.
“If the refs don't know the rules, they should at least take a rulebook with them” onto the field “or carry a cell phone so they can call someone who does,” Loveless advised. Or perhaps the OSSAA should be abolished altogether if its personnel are not familiar with the organization's rules, he suggested.
AG Pruitt/Devon Energy
Morrissette charged that Pruitt has been “a shill for corporate oil interests” and “should be the people's lawyer,” not running for governor or some other higher office, such as the U.S. Senate.
Adding some balance to the discussion, moderator Mitchell noted that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has been linked to national environmental groups such as the Sierra Club.
Loveless faintly praised Pruitt for “trying to make it easier for energy companies” to operate in Oklahoma. The resurgence of the energy sector has created thousands of jobs in Oklahoma and is helping the United States in its quest to become energy-independent.
However, Loveless also chided Pruitt for affixing his signature to a three-page letter that was penned by lawyers for Devon Energy and was delivered to Pruitt by Devon's chief of lobbying. The letter, addressed to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, accused federal regulators of grossly overestimating the amount of air pollution that is caused by energy companies drilling for natural gas in Oklahoma.
Capitol Hill Mascot
Both legislators criticized the Oklahoma City school board for its recent decision to ban Redskins as the Capitol Hill mascot.
Morrissette, who is starting his 11th consecutive year in the Legislature and represents the Capitol Hill area, said no one has ever complained to him about the mascot. Furthermore, he said, the school board “should be more concerned about what's going on inside the schools” than about the mascot.
Loveless expressed concern with “how they went about it, the way in which it was done.” The senator said his father was graduated from Capitol Hill, and said no one from the school's alumni association was consulted by the school board before it voted to ban the mascot.