MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

June 15, 2014

School chief primary has crowded field

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Janet Barresi has made good on promises to make major changes to Oklahoma’s education system that she made while campaigning to be state school superintendent four years ago, but she has been unable to rally some educators and parents to her cause and faces six challengers to her re-election bid, including two within her own party.

Barresi was elected in 2010 at the height of the tea party movement and as part of a Republican sweep of Oklahoma’s statewide offices. While campaigning, she vowed to make big changes, which she did as a driving force behind state’s A-F grading scale for public schools.

“I’m determined to make sure we have a great system that focuses on children’s differentiated needs and the way they learn to read and equips teachers with the knowledge on how to reach those kids,” Barresi recently told The Associated Press. “We have got to fix the system, and those that oppose me on the Democratic and the Republican side, all of those folks are about rolling all of this back and getting control of this and bringing us back to where we were in the previous administration a couple decades ago. I can’t let Oklahoma’s kids be subject to that again.”

One of Barresi’s GOP opponents, former state Education Board member Joy Hofmeister, has been critical of the grading system, describing it as “not meaningful, useful or reliable,” and accusing state administrators of not communicating meaningfully with school districts.

Earlier this month, Barresi withdrew her support for Common Core guidelines for achievements in math and English. After Fallin signed a bill setting aside the standards, Barresi, who had long backed them, said they had become “too entangled in federal government” and has become “too difficult and inflexible.”

Hofmeister, who was appointed to the state Board of Education by Gov. Mary Fallin, is a former school teacher and owns a franchise of Kumon after-school programs in Tulsa. She didn’t respond to requests for an interview.

The third GOP challenger is Brian Kelly, who says he has 20 years in the education field and who ran unsuccessfully to be the state’s superintendent of public instruction in 2010. He also didn’t respond to an interview request.

There are four candidates in the Democratic race.

John Cox is a longtime school superintendent and educator and is an adjunct professor at Northeastern State University.

Freda Deskin has taught at the primary and post-secondary levels. She was a dean at Oklahoma City University and founded a charter school in Oklahoma City.

Jack Herron is a past assistant state Superintendent for Financial Services and works as government relations director for Professional Oklahoma Educators, an organization for school personnel.

Finally, Ivan Holmes taught for more than 40 years at the high school and college level and is a former chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party.

Wallace Collins, chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, said he thinks his party has a good chance of taking back the position due to GOP infighting.

“All the baggage on the Republican side, I mean, Janet Barresi has done a terrible job and there’s an awful lot of Republicans who don’t like her,” he said. “They feel like both she and Joy Hofmeister are both connected to Gov. Fallin, and Mary Fallin’s numbers are not too great, so we feel like we have a great chance to pick up that office.”

Collins said he believes voters aren’t happy with the lack of funding for public education in the state. The Republican-led Legislature approved an $80 million increase to public education funding for K-12 for next fiscal year, which starts July 1. But Collins said it’s still lagging.

“Even though they added the $80 million extra to it, it’s still funded at about 2009 levels, so we’re five years behind the times if you want to couch it that way ,” he said. “So they haven’t really done any favors.”

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