Name: Shane Saunders
Occupation: President of Trident Energy Inc.
Lived in District 5 for: 14 years
Education: Bachelor's in politics and bachelor's in classics from Washington and Lee University; master's in business administration from University of Tulsa
Campaign website: ShaneSaunders.org
Why are you running for the Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education District 5 seat?
The current school board is comprised almost exclusively of educators and former educators. The board desperately needs the skillset of a businessman and MBA who has experience with governance and oversight roles in other organizations.
Additionally, there are no fathers of TPS children on the board and I believe that a dad’s perspective is an important viewpoint to share with the other members. Additionally, TPS needs board members who are well-versed in the legislative process and who have extensive relationships within the legislative and executive branches of state government and I’m looking forward to bringing my experience and contacts to work on behalf of TPS.
What are your primary goals and objectives as a board member if elected?
The education funding formula in Oklahoma was last updated in 1996. It is woefully out of date and puts TPS at a distinct disadvantage compared to other school districts. Changing this formula to more accurately reflect the needs of today’s students is my top priority.
American students objectively lag behind our international competitors in reading and math since 2000. I want to make a turnaround at TPS the case study for other schools across the country. We can lead the way and become the model for urban school districts nationwide to follow.
I will make it a priority to foster open communication and relationship building between the board and stakeholders by meeting each where they are in informal and comfortable settings.
How has your background/experience prepared you to succeed in this role?
I have a set of unique skills of benefit to our district with a track record of bringing people of diverse and, sometimes contentious, opinions together to reach great outcomes for our city.
Most recently, as part of a dedicated group of board members, I led the effort to construct a facility for Iron Gate at a new location in downtown Tulsa. This required three years of work to bring varying viewpoints of government officials, developers, residents, community activists, funders and others together in order to accomplish something that many deemed impossible.
I had to build relationships in order to foster trust and, at times, had to stand up to very powerful people to advocate for Tulsa’s most vulnerable citizens.
After weeks of collecting public input, Tulsa Public Schools is preparing to slash $20 million from its 2020-21 budget as a result of declining enrollment and a decade of state funding cuts to education. Part of Superintendent Deborah Gist’s proposal to the school board involves shutting down four elementary schools. One of those is Wright Elementary, which is located in District 5.
The proposal has drawn the ire of many families and community members, but TPS officials insist the closures are necessary for the district to operate within its continued fiscal restraints. How do you think TPS has handled the situation, and do you believe the recommendation is the right move?
TPS engaged in a deliberate, thoughtful process to gather community viewpoints and to collect the priorities and preferences of stakeholders to tackle this long-building challenge.
The bottom line is that these funding reductions have to occur one way or another and I believe that TPS tried to protect the classroom experience as much as possible, in accordance with the wishes of the community at large. The plan is not perfect and is certain to be painful in the short run, but I believe that it positions the district well for future success.
Enrollment at TPS has declined by about 5,000 students in the past decade. State data shows most students who left ended up in surrounding school districts and a variety of charter schools. What steps should TPS take to reverse its enrollment decline?
One way to improve school funding for TPS is through enrollment growth and the district needs to do a better job telling the full story about TPS and our tremendous success stories.
I believe that the district is generally reactive to news stories and we need to establish a clear marketing plan to proactively tell our story and attract new students. For example, TPS has the only “A” high school in the region and our neighborhood schools foster a sense of community and character that the suburban districts cannot replicate. For too long our city has only read the “bad news” about our challenges and not enough about our success. It is time to go on offense.