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School board meeting sees cooperation, passage of contested items

Tulsa Public Schools Board meets July 14, 2022
Tulsa Public Schools
TPS Livestream
Tulsa Public Schools Board meets July 14, 2022

A special Tulsa Public Schools Board meeting sees cooperation.

After a contentious session Monday night, the board approved funding for a number of disputed items, including a Chinese language program at Booker T. Washington High School.

New board member E’Lena Ashley criticized the program. She said children being “indoctrinated” is a worry.

“As we talk about the Chinese classroom and Booker T. Washington, I’d like us all to consider that the grant being accepted by this nonprofit is from Communist China,” said Ashley. “This is one of the emails I received from parents.”

Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist said the agreement is run through the International Leadership of Texas and the program has been at BTWHS since 1989.

Board member John Croisant said he heard from upset parents and students when the program was rejected Monday.

“They expressed to me just how disappointed they were that this was voted down because there was no evidence, there was no questioning by the board when we voted no on this particular item. We hadn’t done our research to know how good of a program this was,” said Croisant.

Every board member voted for the Chinese program except Ashley.

On whether or not to issue voter-approved technology bonds, Ashley was joined in her no vote by Dr. Jennettie Marshall. Marshall said she believed an appearance of a conflict of interest was present since Gist’s husband works at Bank of Oklahoma. BOK won the bond contract with the lowest bid according to the district.

The board’s legal representation said a conflict of interest occurs for board members and employees when a person owns 3% of a company. Gist said her husband owns far less than 3% of BOK, and she repeated statements that her husband has nothing to do with school bond work.

The technology bond issue passed along with other disputed contracts and routine business. Additional special meetings called to approve the items that failed Monday have been cancelled.

The next regularly scheduled board meeting is Aug. 1.

Before joining Public Radio Tulsa, Elizabeth Caldwell was a freelance reporter and a teacher. She holds a master's from Hollins University. Her audio work has appeared at KCRW, CBC's The World This Weekend, and The Missouri Review. She is a south Florida native.