Embattled State Schools Superintendent Janet Barresi rejected calls for her immediate resignation today, saying she plans to finish out her term in office.
The pleas for her resignation came during a contentious meeting of the State Board of Education Thursday morning.
Several issues ignited debate and prompted questions of Barresi's leadership. Among them was Barresi's recent hire of Larry Birney to fill a new Assistant Superintendent for Accreditation position. Birney is married to the State Department of Education's (SDE) general counsel, Kim Richey.
But more than anything, there was debate and disbelief over SDE leadership's decision to ask the Board to approve a $2.8 million sole-source contract for CTB McGraw-Hill to conduct the state's upcoming winter testing.
"It isn't an ideal situation," Barresi told the Board, "but circumstances made this unavoidable."
Barresi pointed to several factors: the Legislature's recent rejection of Common Core, the loss of the No Child Left Behind Waiver and a declining number of testing vendors. She said the result was that they had no better option than to fall back on McGraw-Hill, the same company that disrupted testing for thousands of Oklahoma students the past two springs.
"We were very vigorous is trying to find other options on this," stated Barresi. "Believe me, we are not delighted at bringing this recommendation to you."
Department officials testified, with the limited number of students who take winter assessments, the risk in using McGraw-Hill would be minimal, but some board members weren't ready to give McGraw-Hill a third chance.
"I mean, are you drinking that Kool-Aid?" an incredulous Gen. Lee Baxter said.
State Representative Jason Smalley, R-Stroud, expressed similar disappointment when he spoke during the period for public comment.
"I think that this shows a lack of leadership," said Rep. Smalley, "and I ask you, as a board member today, not to set the traps for the future."
Board member Baxter called department leadership dysfunctional and disrespectful and said that has to end.
"And the way I feel that that happens is for the state superintendent to relinquish her role now," said Baxter, "not on the election of a new state superintendent."
Barresi, who was defeated this summer in the Republican primary, responded to Baxter's words following the meeting.
"I don't intend to [resign]," said Barresi. "I was given a job by Oklahomans to, first of all, focus on their children, and I have done that from day one. I will do that to the final day."
The Board refused to vote on the McGraw-Hill proposal; they tabled it until SDE can provide additional information at a special meeting.
As for the hire of Dr. Birney, Barresi insisted she had the authority to make the hire, and she stands behind it.