Two vie for south OKC board seat
The incumbent is a 49-year-old former educator who has served on the Oklahoma City School Board for more than four years without appearing on a ballot. Her opponent, a 20-year-old college student, is the son of a controversial ex-board member who once occupied the seat that is up for grabs in the April 2 general election.
Gloria Torres and Josh Means are seeking to represent District 6 in the school system's predominantly Hispanic southwest side. The board seat represents 13 schools, including nine elementary schools.
Torres, a second-generation Hispanic-American, is a former teacher and middle school principal who later served as acting director of Community Outreach and Education for Oklahoma City Community College. She was appointed to the school board in 2014, ran unopposed in 2015, and currently serves as the panel's vice chairwoman.
"Four generations of my family have attended OKCPS, including my grandchildren. I'm invested in OKCPS," Torres told The Oklahoman. "Yes, we have some challenges on the south side. But growing up as a southsider, I know that we don’t run away from the challenges — we face them. We roll up our sleeves and get to work. That’s what I’ve been doing."
Means is the son of Jay Means, the board's District 6 representative from 2011 until 2014, when he resigned after taking a job as a middle school principal in Woodward.
The school board appointed Torres to fill the seat left by Means mid-term.
Jay Means quit his Woodward principal job and filed papers to run for his old seat before withdrawing from the race along with another candidate, leaving Torres without an opponent.
A self-described political consultant, Jay Means was accused in 2015 by Crooked Oak Public Schools Superintendent Brad Richards of directing two board members to disrupt district business by missing meetings. Means denied the allegations.
According to a December news release from his campaign, Josh Means "is a 20-year-old African-American, conservative Republican." A campaign flyer obtained by The Oklahoman states that he is the executive director of KidZone Learning Center in Oklahoma City, a daycare owned by his family. According to a state licensing website, the facility's director is listed as Patricia Means, his mother.
Means says he is a student of Oklahoma State University.
Means has declined multiple interview requests by The Oklahoman and would not respond to emailed questions.
In his media release from December, Means states he "brings a multicultural approach that can bring people together and will no doubt serve him well on the OKCPS board."
"Josh is running because he believes that the most important elected office is the local school board," the release states. "He looks forward to meeting the voters within the district and plans to offer positive support for the students, for the teachers, and for the constituents of the district."
Means' campaign flyer includes a salute to veterans and a belief that "we need to support our students and teachers without raising taxes," topics unrelated to the local school board position.
"Josh says that we can be fiscally responsible and NOT be last in the nation in teacher pay and student funding," the flyer states. "We must turn out students who become productive, patriotic American Citizens."
The focus of Means' flyer is his opponent's attendance record. For about three months in 2018, Torres commuted between Oklahoma City and Puerto Rico, where she worked for the secretary of education on issues related to community and family relations. She missed 11 of 30 regular and special board meetings, records show.
"Incumbent School Board Member Torres worked in Puerto Rico and has missed too many meetings to be an effective representative of District 6," the flyer states. "It is time for us to have meaningful representation for our constituents."
Torres, who serves on the board's finance and policy committees and regularly attends community functions as part of her board duties, disagreed with that assertion.
"Service on our board is much more than attendance at the regular business meetings," she said. "It’s about spending countless hours engaging with our school communities, the city's business community, civic leaders, and elected policymakers."
Torres said voters are tired of empty rhetoric.
"It's about working together to find solutions," she said. "It’s been great taking our positive forward-thinking message to my neighbors. They agree that we must work together to strengthen our schools because they are the heart and soul of our neighborhoods."
Chairwoman Paula Lewis said Torres, the board's second longest-serving member, brings a historical perspective to the panel.
"Gloria is a big part of what the board has accomplished over the past two years," Lewis said, pointing to the district's equity policy and restructuring project. "She wants to know the information that we need to offer the best opportunity to every child in the district, not just those on the south side of I-40."
Board member Rebecca Budd said Torres brings diversity to the board and unique insight "as a Latina."
"By not being a homogeneous group and having diverse voices, the board considers a broader set of issues when making critical decisions," Budd said.