Tahlequah Daily Press


June 26, 2014

Bill may put control back in school board hands

TAHLEQUAH — A piece of proposed legislation could put control back into the hands of local school board members and out of the hands of government.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., recently introduced the Local School Board Governance and Flexibility Act that aims to bring control of education policy back to local communities and schools.

“In recent years, the voice of local leaders is being eroded through inhibitive policies and regulations established by large federal agencies, like the Department of Education, acting on their own,” Inhofe said in a press release.

He said education has historically been a state and local issue.

Tahlequah Public Schools Technology and Operations Executive Director Terry Garrett agrees.

“Schools used to be funded on a local basis, then the state started providing money and the federal government,” said Garrett. “With money comes regulations on how to spend it, lots of paperwork and many deadlines.”

More than 660,000 children are enrolled in public schools across Oklahoma, and Garrett said that with all the accountability, it takes away from the district’s ability to be creative.

“We spend a third of the money on reporting how we used it, and this takes up our ability to provide the best for students,” he said.

He added the district does not mind the accountability.

“It is all the time spent justifying how we spent it and begging for the dollars in the first place,” said Garrett.

The district may apply for grant money, and then it must collect data – which includes students – and report back.

“We then have to report back and prove the results with the dollar amounts,” said Garrett.

Three administrative assistants help maintain the regulatory side of the funds and programs, and several more employees manage federal regulations within their programs.

Christine Gonzales, grant manager for TPS, said there is an overwhelming amount of paperwork and deadlines for everything.

“The state department requires a district use the software they provide, and the software always has tons of issues,” she said. “The State Department of Education is not always on time with its information, and sometimes it is not easy to understand.”

Gonzales said the district is a year ahead on applying for additional funding, and sometimes, help cannot always be found.

“You can call the state department and no one can give you an answer,” she said.

David Morrison, vice president of the Tahlequah I-35 Board of Education, said the board does not have much say about grants.

“We approve actions that are recommended by the superintendent,” he said. “We try to do the best for the students.”

Inhofe hopes the legislation passes.

“If passed, my legislation would rein in the Department of Education’s unchecked regulations by ensuring state and local school boards have a voice as to how these regulations are affecting their education goals. The legislation would also require the agency to provide Congress with an annual report on how its policies are impacting our local school districts, enforcing transparency in the federal government,” Inhofe said in the press release.

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