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The Morning Bell: School consolidation a tough sell in many towns

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Governor Mary Fallin holds a press conference to discuss executive orders she signed and the next special session at the Capitol, Tuesday, November 21, 2017. Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman
Governor Mary Fallin holds a press conference to discuss executive orders she signed and the next special session at the Capitol, Tuesday, November 21, 2017. Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman

Good Wednesday morning! 

In an effort to save money, or to throw a bone to some of the most conservative members of the state Legislature, Gov. Mary Fallin signed an executive order that could force the consolidation of some small school districts. 

First, the details from The Oklahoman's Dale Denwalt...

The public school administration consolidation order is similar to legislation that didn't pass during special session. It directs the State Board of Education to compile a list of every district that spends less than 60 percent of its budget on instructional expenditures.

Schools on that list would then voluntarily plan for consolidation or annexation. If they do not, the state can intervene. The order doesn't force entire districts to consolidate. Rather, it considers administrative services like superintendent duties, budgeting, maintenance and equipment, bonding and other responsibilities.

You can read more of Denwalt's coverage here

Some of the most conservative lawmakers have long believed Oklahoma has way too many school districts - and way too many district superintendents. 

Some will say that removing every superintendent, not to mention just a couple dozen, would save the state a relatively small amount of money. Others would say the state needs to save any amount it can right now. 

The Oklahoma State School Boards Association called Fallin's move "cheap political theater" and, understandably, some superintendents took offense to the move, like the superintendent at Barnsdall Public Schools: 


The state Department of Education responded last night by saying the governor did not reach out to them for input before signing the executive order.

“We were surprised this afternoon to learn that the Governor was issuing an executive order related to school finances. The Governor's office did not consult or seek input from Superintendent Hofmeister or State Department of Education staff. We were notified simply that an executive order was forthcoming about 90 minutes before it was issued. We will be reviewing the matter in the coming weeks.”

Consolidation may have its supporters, but it's a tough sell in many of the small Oklahoma communities that would be impacted.

"The school is the heart of the community in many of these small towns," said Lee Denney, a former state representative who authored a school consolidation bill last year that failed in committee. "A lot of times you are an actual music or athletic rival with the school we are asking you to consolidate with. It's very hard to wrap your mind around that."

I'll have more on this in the coming day. 

Fighting student hunger

Oklahoma’s already-high poverty rate ticked up this year, and more than one in four Oklahoma kids are at risk of hunger. But a rare bright spot for Oklahoma schools is the opportunity to combat child hunger through their nutrition programs, and one district in southeastern Oklahoma has gone all in, writes Carly Putnam of the Oklahoma Policy Institute

Through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) program, participating schools can offer free meals to all students. Instead of charging the students themselves, schools are reimbursed by the USDA based on the percentage of students identified as at risk for hunger

--Fighting childhood hunger is included in Oklahoma's new education plan, which has been submitted for federal approval. With nearly 23 percent of children facing food insecurity, Oklahoma has some of the highest childhood hunger rates in the nation, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Read more here

Educator to run for office

Former Owasso educator Mark Vancuren has announced plans to run for public office, he confirmed to the Owasso Reporter.

Vancuren, a basketball coach and teacher at Owasso from 2004 until his resignation in the spring, said in an email release he intends to challenge Republican Dr. Dale Derby for the District 74 seat of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Derby was elected in 2016.

--Is another teachers caucus in the works? Despite a largely unsuccessful effort last year by dozens of teachers who ran in state legislative races, the 2018 election cycle could see another wave of educators on the ballot.

Visiting Tulsa Union 

Tulsa Union embodies the educational greatness that I’d thought would become the norm in 21st century America, writes John Thompson in Huffington Post

Volunteers from Edgemere Elementary joined other educators from under-funded school systems, and community leaders from Oklahoma City on a field trip to Tulsa Union. Thompson said he immediately understood why the New York Times’ David Kirp was so effusive in praising Tulsa Union’s community schools.

Science teachers awarded grants

The Bartlesville Public Schools Foundation formed a new partnership this year with the Northern Oklahoma section of the American Chemical Society, reports the Examiner-Enterprise. The groups awarded three science grants to Bartlesville public school teachers, totaling $2,500.

That's all for today's Morning Bell. See you tomorrow. 

Related Photos
Governor Mary Fallin holds a press conference to discuss executive orders she signed and the next special session at the Capitol, Tuesday, November 21, 2017. Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman

Governor Mary Fallin holds a press conference to discuss executive orders she signed and the next special session at the Capitol, Tuesday, November 21, 2017. Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-6cc8c24405c918f7965f515d115edc40.jpg" alt="Photo - Governor Mary Fallin holds a press conference to discuss executive orders she signed and the next special session at the Capitol, Tuesday, November 21, 2017. Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman" title="Governor Mary Fallin holds a press conference to discuss executive orders she signed and the next special session at the Capitol, Tuesday, November 21, 2017. Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Governor Mary Fallin holds a press conference to discuss executive orders she signed and the next special session at the Capitol, Tuesday, November 21, 2017. Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure>
Ben Felder

Ben Felder is an investigative reporter for The Oklahoman. A native of Kansas City, Ben has lived in Oklahoma City since 2010 and covered politics, education and local government for the Oklahoma Gazette before joining The Oklahoman in 2016.... Read more ›

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