January 2015 Editorial Winner

Barresi’s A is for arrogance

Ted Streuli, The Journal Record

What’s lawful and what’s right are not always the same.
That truth was apparent Monday when the Tulsa World reported that outgoing Superintendent of Schools Janet Barresi made 11th-hour personnel changes. Newly sworn schools chief Joy Hofmeister will have to live with those, and Oklahoma taxpayers will have to live with the $653,000 added to the state’s payroll. Barresi hired five and promoted three in her last week on the job.
Barresi’s attitude was laid bare in the opening few words of her written response to the World, which began, “It is my right as superintendent of public instruction...” But having the right doesn’t make it right.
Barresi was trounced in her re-election bid, becoming the rare incumbent to not merely lose in a primary election, but to finish third with just 21 percent of the vote. It is hard to recall any elected official who has been fired so resolutely by the voters. Carroll Fisher, Jack Walton and David Hall each likely stood a better chance of winning an election than Barresi, who alienated school administrators, teachers and parents alike in just one term. That’s quite a feat considering her predecessor, Sandy Garrett, managed to keep the rarely contentious job for 20 years, eventually retiring in 2010.
Barresi knew in June she was out of the job. She knew Oklahomans wanted someone else – perhaps anyone else – to take the reins of public education.
The right thing to do was to start a smooth transition to a new administration.
There was plenty of time.
Instead, Barresi in September created the position of assistant state superintendent of accreditation and compliance and hired a career law enforcement officer, Larry Birney, to fill the unadvertised job. Birney happens to be married to Barresi’s general counsel, Kim Richey. We are also reminded that Barresi started her term with three controversial hires who had supervisory duties over state employees, although they were being paid by a private nonprofit organization.
That astonishing level of arrogance comes as no surprise to those who tried to deal with Barresi when she was overseeing the charter high school she launched, Harding Charter Prep, where bullying tactics over a sublease led to a legal battle with the school’s co-tenant, Harding Fine Arts Academy.
All of which, surely, was her right.
On Jan. 2, Oklahoma’s education system was ranked fourth-worst in the nation.
An Arabian proverb applies: Arrogance diminishes wisdom.

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