Editor’s Notebook: Bennington superintendent to challenge Barresi, Ridley retires (in part), school safety commission formed
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Published: 21-Dec-2012

From an editor’s notebook, a public school superintendent wants to unseat state Superintendent Janet Barresi, a titan of state transportation is retiring (in part), and a bipartisan group of state leaders are forming a commission on school safety. 

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Donna Anderson, a public school educator from Bennington in southeast Oklahoma, announced today that she will run for state Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2014.

A Democrat, Anderson opposes parental choice in education, specifically the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships.

Anderson believes the ACT would be a preferable method for evaluating students leaving high schools, rather than the End-of-Instruction tests that have been controversial in recent years. In response to a question from CapitolBeatOK, Anderson said she believes – even without a legislative mandate – counselors should encourage more students to take the ACT. She said the ACT would make a good exit test for all students. 

In response to another question from CapitolBeatOK, Anderson said she that although she opposes the Henry Scholarships and use of “public dollars for private schools” she did not agree with targeting parents of special needs children in a lawsuit seeking to strike down the scholarships.

Although she opposes recent moves toward choice that includes private schools, she said “there is a place” for private schools, home schools and online education in the educational system. Anderson said she does not oppose use of tax money for programs that benefit private hospitals or programs for veterans. 

Anderson has been in education for 19 years. In a prepared statement she said “The last two years have shown us how easy it is to shift the education conversations away from what’s best for Oklahoma students.” 

She took a shot at incumbent state Superintendent Janet Barresi’s background in business and dentistry, saying, “It is vital that educators, like me, are in the driver’s seat of change.” 

Anderson told CapitolBeatOK the Bennington Public School system where she is presently superintendent garnered a “B” grade for its high school, and “C” grades for elementary and “overall.” Concerning the State Department of Education’s new grading system for schools, Anderson said there are “specifics of the A-F” where her schools could never make an A due to the system’s small size. 

Shortly after Anderson announced her candidacy at a state Capitol press conference, the Oklahoma Democratic Party circulated a press release touting her candidacy.

The incumbent, Superintendent Barresi, is a Republican who was elected in 2010. 

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Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) Director Gary Ridley announced Friday (December 21) he will be leaving his post in March 2013. He also will step down as director of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, but said in a press release sent to CapitolBeatOK that he will remain a member of Gov. Mary Fallin’s cabinet as Secretary of Transportation.

Ridley has worked at ODOT for 44 years, and became director in August 2001 during the administration of Gov. Frank Keating. In 2009, under then-Gov. Brad Henry, he took the reins at the turnpike authority and joined Gov. Henry’s cabinet. 

Ridley guided development of ODOT’s eight-year construction plan, and has worked closely with members of the Legislature to establish the “Asset Preservation Plan” to improve infrastructure for roads and bridges. 

Governor Fallin said, “From his start at ODOT in 1965 as an equipment operator, Gary has impressed his colleagues with his professionalism, work ethic and dedication to high quality work. While he will be sorely missed at ODOT and OTA, he will continue to play an important role in improving our transportation infrastructure in his position on my cabinet.”

In a statement to CapitolBeatOK, Ridley said he looked forward to further work with the governor: “Governor Fallin continues to improve the business climate in Oklahoma and she understands that transportation is a key factor in increasing economic opportunity and improving quality of life for our citizens.”

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Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, Senate President Pro Temp Brian Bingman of Sapulpa and incoming House Speaker T.W. Shannon of Lawton on Thursday (December 20) announced formation of a state Commission on School Safety. 

Democratic legislative leaders, Sen. Sean Burrage of Claremore and Rep. Scott Inman of Del City, pledged to work with GOP leaders on the commission.

A release from Lamb’s office said the commission’s purpose “will be to study a number of school security factors and to provide suggestions and possible legislative recommendations for the 2013 legislative session. Some initial issues to be discussed within the commission’s study will include current school safety measures, local control and local empowerment and mental health.”

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.

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