Senate Education committee advances bills to enhance superintendent’s power
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Published: 28-Mar-2011

The Senate Education Committee has advanced to the floor two House bills that, if enacted, will strengthen the authority of Oklahoma’s superintendent of public instruction. 

  After winning overwhelmingly in the November 2010 election, Janet Barresi , a Republican, has been stymied in some moves to promote promised reforms by the statewide board of education. Although the board has constitutional status, its powers are defined in various statutes. 

  The committee today (Monday, March 28) unanimously passed House Bill 2139, authored by House Speaker Kris Steele, by a vote of 12-0. H.B. 2139 defines the responsibilities of the State Board of Education and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. 

  The proposal gained strength earlier this year after a highly contentious meeting of the state Board of Education, during which members rhetorically assailed Janet Barresi and voted to deny her hiring of personal staff members. Under current law, the superintendent is the only statewide elected official that must gain a board’s approval for such staff positions. 

  In other action, the committee passed House Bill 1380, by Rep. Corey Holland, by a 10-4 vote. The measure aims to simplify the system for dismissing ineffective or bad teachers in public schools, limiting access to district courts in the “trial de novo” process. Advocates say the measure could save schools tens of thousands of dollars in court costs.
 
  Concerning H.B. 2130 and changes in the board of education’s powers, Speaker Steele, in a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, said, “Reforming our education system is one of our high priorities. We must provide the best structure for educating children in Oklahoma.  Advancing these necessary reforms establishes checks and balances in the system and increases academic accountability, providing Oklahoma children a better future. The education reforms approved by the Senate committee demonstrate we are dedicated to reforms benefiting all children and districts in the state.”
 
  Representative Holland, a Marlow Republican, said House Bill 1380 “is a key education reform which will have a positive impact on student learning. This reform empowers local boards elected by local parents to make decisions necessary to provide the best education to local children. Our children deserve to have a quality teacher in every classroom, and I believe this bill is a strong step towards that goal."
 
  Governor Mary Fallin had named elimination of “trial de novo” as a priority in her State of the State address. She applauded the action on H.B. 1380 in a statement this afternoon.
 
  Fallin said, “I applaud the Senate Education Committee for working to approve both of these important bills and I encourage the Legislature to get them to my desk as soon as possible. Signing these bills into law will help to increase accountability in our classrooms, ensure the state of Oklahoma employs qualified and effective teachers, and ultimately work to improve the overall quality of our schools.” 
 
  The two education reform bills will now move onto the Senate calendar. 

  In a press conference this afternoon, Governor Fallin told reporters she is pressing her allies in the Republican caucus of both the house and Senate to move rapidly to enact a wide range of reforms members of her party have advocated in recent years.
 

NOTE: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.

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