State Superintendent Janet Barresi has been busy hiring and promoting employees from within the Oklahoma State Department of Education in her final days and weeks in office.
All told, her new hires total about $653,000 in base salary costs, and the salary increases that accompanied promotions, not counting one executive’s unknown bump in pay, total $62,000.
On Monday alone, five new employees with salaries totaling $290,500 were hired. Among them is the executive director of the new Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, with a salary of $90,000.
On Wednesday, Michele Sprague was promoted to executive director of literacy and Kayla Hindman was promoted to director of early childhood education and elementary English language arts. Both received $5,000 raises.
On Friday, Todd Loftin was promoted to assistant state superintendent for special education services with a salary of $80,000, but officials were unsure how much of a raise that salary amount represented because the decision came so late in the day.
Asked for an accounting of all recent promotions, shifts and new hires, Phil Bacharach, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, responded with a report that shows there have been 12 other internal transfers — including six promotions — and 13 new hires since the beginning of November.
Joy Hofmeister, who defeated Barresi in the primary and Democrat John Cox in the general election, is to be sworn in Monday.
Asked to comment on the hirings and inter-departmental
musical chairs, Hofmeister called the situation “disappointing.”
“Instability in any state agency is a hallmark of failed leadership. Future staff decisions will be made with careful consideration and respect for all involved,” she said.
“I look forward to joining the State Department of Education next week. I know there are hardworking people in the department and I look forward to getting to know them better. Plans are underway to conduct a formal capacity review of the agency to ensure we have the right people in the right places to best serve our state.
“My focus remains the schoolchildren of Oklahoma. Monday marks a new day for education.”
Barresi, who came in third place out of the three candidates in June’s Republican primary election, drew criticism and calls for her immediate resignation in late September when she created a new position and hired the husband of her general counsel, Kim Richey, to fill it.
The brand-new position of assistant state superintendent of accreditation and compliance has a base salary of $90,000. Barresi hired Larry Birney, a career law enforcement official who made headlines statewide when he resigned as executive director of the Council of Law Enforcement Education and Training, or CLEET, in Ada in 2011 after three years there. The resignation came after a formal panel was formed to investigate his conduct.
As a result, several lawmakers have pledged upcoming legislation to prevent outgoing state officials and lawmakers from making nonessential hires or creating new positions in the future.
On Friday evening, Barresi defended her actions in a written statement to the Tulsa World.
“It is my right as superintendent of public instruction to make personnel decisions, and the literacy position is critical for this state.
“I can tell you Michelle Sprague has been there from the beginning of (the Reading Sufficiency Act). She has vast understanding of every component of it, and her breadth and depth of knowledge on the subject of reading instruction is, I believe, without peer. There is no one in this state who knows as much about RSA and how to implement it,” Barresi said.
“Similarly, I have every confidence Todd Loftin will be tremendous in his new role. He has the confidence of educators, has proven himself a strong leader and has been excellent in his work with a multi-state collaborative to help profoundly disabled students.”