Update (Thursday): TPS board reverses course, approves routine items
The absence of one board member and a 3-3 split among the remaining six over whether to approve routine business items Monday night has Tulsa Public Schools in scramble mode.
Among those consent agenda items were the district’s 2022-23 agreement with Reading Partners to place volunteer reading coaches at 18 elementary schools, contracts for 32 new teachers and support personnel, an additional 30 staffing moves within the district, recruitment stipends of up to $3,000, encumbrance orders for supplies, and summer pay for more than 30 transportation employees.
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“The board approved a budget in June and has the funding available to do these things,” Board President Stacey Woolley said. “However, without the approval of the board in the current fiscal year, Tulsa Public Schools cannot start making these payments.”
Board members Jennettie Marshall and Jerry Griffin each told the Tulsa World on Tuesday that despite their disagreements with Superintendent Deborah Gist, they would be willing to revisit their votes on 12 agenda items that did not pass Monday night due to a tie vote.
“The questions I ask are to push to get us to the point of being accountable,” said Marshall, who said she started responding to constituents’ feedback at 7 a.m. Tuesday about the Monday night meeting.
“I don’t dislike Dr. Gist or anyone else,” she said. “This is about business. It’s the business of the school district. I don’t put my personal feelings in it, and I don’t put my political party in it. None of this is political.”
Marshall and E’Lena Ashley voted against everything on Monday night’s consent agenda, while Griffin voted against 12 of the 28 items on the consent agenda. With Judith Barba Perez absent, the vote was tied on those 12 items.
Ashley, Griffin and Marshall walked out of Monday night’s meeting after Gist began using the superintendent’s report portion of the agenda to lay out her objections about the board’s votes on those items.
That split vote and walk-out caused a deluge of phone calls, text messages and emails to Shawna Mott-Wright. The president of the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association, Mott-Wright has been fielding questions Monday night and Tuesday from current and future TPS employees whose contract status is now in limbo.
“A few have already said they will go elsewhere,” she said. “Other districts have been reaching out to them, because they have staffing shortages, as well.”
Griffin said Tuesday that he was open to reconsidering his vote on those 12 items if they were brought before the board on the action agenda and thus eligible to be debated individually rather than as part of the consent agenda.
During Monday night’s meeting, he attempted to make a motion to move items from the consent agenda to the action agenda but was denied.
“If that request had been honored, we would not be in this situation today,” he said. “We could have debated and discussed them properly.”
Citing the split among board members, Griffin also issued a public call Tuesday morning for Gist’s resignation.
“Good leaders know when it is time to leave, and it is time for her to go,” he said, noting that he is prepared to circulate a petition among board members to seek the superintendent’s removal from office if necessary.
Meanwhile, Marshall said her no vote on Monday night was because she still had unanswered questions about some of the individual items on the consent agenda.
“I would be open to revisiting items if my questions were answered,” Marshall said. “I don’t have a problem with Reading Partners, but I do want some additional information about it first.”
Like Griffin, she said there were specific consent items she wanted to move to the action agenda for debate and individual consideration.
Citing guidance from a professional development session, Marshall has previously stated that she will not carve out individual consent agenda items for votes but will instead consider that portion of the docket as a whole.
“I could not in good conscience vote on a package deal,” she said.
Woolley confirmed Tuesday that those 12 items from Monday night’s meeting will be brought back for reconsideration at a special meeting at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Education Service Center that was scheduled prior to Monday night’s votes.
“I believe … when the agenda is released tomorrow (Wednesday), they are going to be on there as action items,” Woolley said.
When asked Tuesday afternoon, Woolley said Barba Perez is out of the country to address both family concerns and health issues. As of their last conversation, Woolley said, she was not scheduled to be back in time for Thursday’s special meeting.
In a prepared statement, Gist said she is hopeful that the board will come back together, and she offered to provide the board with any information needed.
A TPS spokeswoman said Tuesday afternoon that while the superintendent had not spoken with any board members since Monday night’s meeting, she had texted them to reach out with questions.
In the interim, at least one local public education reform leader is asking how students, parents and teachers become the center of the conversation in Tulsa’s school board meetings once again because they are the most affected.
“We should not be doing things to people, but doing things with people,” said Ashley Philippsen, deputy director of Impact Tulsa, a collective impact organization that uses measurements of educational outcomes to drive change across public schools throughout the metro area.
“Did we hear from any students last night? Did we hear from any teachers last night?”
Philippsen said the board members’ mutual interest should be students, but that, instead, what happened Monday seemed to be aimed at “sticking it to someone.” And she thinks students and the district as a whole will continue to suffer if the board itself can’t find a middle ground and focus on operating a public school district in service of its students and the Tulsa community.
“If we were to do a ratio of how many times Gist’s name was called compared to that of students or the success of our youth, I think we would find the scales tipped heavily in Gist’s name,” she said. “I just call to question what are the implications of centering obvious disagreements with the district with decisions that impact kids.”
Alexia Aston contributed to this story.
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