The students are not going to school. And Monday looks to be another momentous day in what will be the sixth day of a teacher walk out. While some Luther teachers are expected to be at the State Capitol again Monday, the school district’s support staff who have been working all along are meeting with the superintendent.
Meanwhile, the group of teachers from Tulsa walking to the Capitol is expected to walk through Luther sometime Monday, maybe around lunch time. Their plan is to stay the night in Wellston Sunday and walk the nearly 20 miles to Jones High School on Monday, turning off Highway 66 at Luther Road to head toward Jones. We will share details of the Luther stop as soon as we know for those who want to cheer them on or offer refreshment.
However, by the end of the week, some were calling for the walkout to end, including the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.
“My hope now is local communities will begin a serious conversation about the need for children to return to class so they can finish the school year strong and ensure all of the dedicated employees in our schools can continue to be paid,” said OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime.
Hime’s statement was released Friday after the State Senate passed two revenue bills.
“Legislators clearly heard the voices of Oklahoma’s teachers, parents and education advocates who said that continued investment in children, teachers and their schools is critical. The phenomenal advocacy of Oklahoma’s teachers has created momentum to ensure that ongoing investment in education is the new normal and that those who want to represent Oklahomans at the state Capitol must support a long-term funding plan for competitive teacher pay and well-resourced classrooms. From every corner of the state, Oklahomans joined with teachers in demanding better for our children, and I’m grateful,” he said.
Still, indications are Monday will be another big day at the Capitol as the Oklahoma Education Association insists the legislature repeal a controversial capital gains exemption and restore a hotel/motel room tax that was cut out of the teacher pay raise legislation. But it’s doubtful either measure will get any traction from the Republican-controlled legislature, especially repeal of the capital gains issue that was approved by Oklahoma voters in 2004. While the effort to give teachers raises has widespread support, some are calling for an audit of the Oklahoma State Department of Education and are collecting names online for a petition that had garnered almost 1,500 names in about 24 hours. Some others say there is plenty of revenue available to fund schools, but accountability is lacking.
Speaking of audits, Monday’s Luther School Board meeting will go on as scheduled. It will be the first meeting since an investigative audit released by the State Auditor & Inspector’s office was released in mid-March. However, there is nothing on the agenda about it. The audit was demanded through a citizen’s petition process of registered voters in the Luther school district back in late 2015. At the time, there were deep concerns about misspending, personnel matters and leadership issues by the public. School board meetings were filled with upset parents and patrons, and it was a time of a budget crisis for the district. By the time the audit was finally released two years later at a district cost of more than $40,000, many of the issues have been addressed, according to observers and school officials. Still, there were some findings including the following:
SAI EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The District expended $79,137.53 from bond funds for work or materials not allowed as a bond expenditure. The District also did not bid three construction projects as required by law, and encumbrances for 27 of the 109 vendors reviewed were not reflected as approved in the Board minutes. The proceeds of the bond issues were comingled into one bank account, blank pre-signed payment-requisition forms were on file in the District’s administration office, and some records pertaining to the expenditure of bond proceeds were not maintained by the District.
Activity Funds (Page 11) The Home Run Club, a booster club for the District’s baseball program, was never officially sanctioned by the Board, maintained an unapproved bank account outside of the District’s Activity Fund, and collections receipted by the Club did not always reconcile with collections receipted and deposited in the Baseball Activity Fund. The District did not have required policies in place to provide guidelines for fundraising clubs and organizations that had been sanctioned. We found no evidence that the FFA Activity Fund and the GoFundMe account established for the Design and Fabrication Class had been mismanaged.
Personnel Contracts (Page 16) A Spanish teacher and a Design and Fabrication instructor were employed without proper certification, resulting in unallowable compensation of $32,436.52 and $50,342.91, respectively. The Board’s hiring of Superintendent Buxton’s wife for the position of “Dean of Students” did not appear to violate nepotism laws; however, the position was not properly posted in accordance with District policy. The position of medical secretary was hired without official approval of the Board. The individual in this position attended college classes during school hours and did not appear to fulfill her 12-month contract.
Grants (Page 22) Petitioners concerns involving $90,000 of questioned costs in grant funds, reported in the FY2014 independent audit, were verified as employee contracts that could not be located. The District’s FY2015 independent auditor reported the “Current Status” with no additional concerns.
Superintendent Barry Gunn said he has discussed the investigative audit with the school district’s auditor and state officials. He does not expect the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s office to pursue a case as a result of the findings. He said while most of the audit work occurred before he became superintendent, he heard the audit staff was professional and easy to work with, and kind as they requested copies (and more copies), worked in the district reviewing documents and interviewing district personnel and citizens.
Click here for the April Luther School Board agenda. Of note, the agenda packet, as usual, includes a wide range of financial information ranging from bills to pay, revenues collected, budget reports and salaries, all timely information in light of the teacher walkout and renewed public interest in education funding.