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Interview with TPS District 1 board candidate Jared Buswell

Jared Buswell
Campaign photo
Jared Buswell

KWGS News interviewed District 1 candidates Stacey Woolley and Jared Buswell ahead of the April 4 election.

On April 4, voters in Tulsa Public Schools District 1 will choose between current school board president Stacey Woolley and challenger Jared Buswell. We sat down with both candidates to talk to them about the school board, their priorities and their views.

When we interviewed Buswell, he discussed independent voting on the school board, meetings that drag on too long, and the role of religion in public education.

Please note, this interview has been edited for length.

For more information about the election and to see if you live in Tulsa Public Schools District 1, visit the Oklahoma voter portal.

ELIZABETH CALDWELL: What made you decide to want to run?

JARED BUSWELL: Really, it was the pandemic response in 2020 and 2021 that really concerned me about Tulsa Public Schools specifically. My vocational focus had been on building up schools in Africa, uh, with an African movement of Africans educating Africans, and we serve 75,000 people annually. I've been doing that for 11 years, and as I was working — Tulsa is my main home base — and just watching the pandemic response, that really alarmed me. So I took some more specific interest in talking to people about what we can do to improve the decision-making process at our Tulsa Public Schools. I was seeing a big separation between the community's values and the way decisions were being made at the board of education. So along those lines, I'd hope to see somebody else run for this seat. Uh, but in, in talking with people, it was really clear to me that I would need to be the candidate to represent the site and that I had the best, uh, capabilities and the passion to bring to this position.

EC: Okay. And so the second question is, if elected, what are your goals in this next term?

JB: Absolutely. My first intermediate goal, which we can fulfill quite quickly, is to restore representation of the community back onto the school board. Right now, we have a voting bloc of board members who vote 100% of the time together. And what that does is that it prevents many issues from being presented to the board or solutions from being heard at the board level. So...

EC: Can I, can I just, I just wanna ask you a follow-up...

JB: Sure.

EC: So, um, you say that there's a voting bloc on the board but I know that you've kind of, at least I've seen you praise E'Lena Ashley. So I'm wondering, would you join a bloc? You wouldn't join a bloc yourself, you would be voting your own mind?

JB: Yes. I would be voting very independently.

EC: Okay. So let's, um, let's move on to the third one. What is your current view of the Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education?

JB: In some ways I'm pleased with some of the diversity of personalities and viewpoints that are on the board. I think that's healthy to have discussion and debate on the board. Some things that are concerning are there's simple leadership principles that could help out to avoid these late night board meetings where the key agenda item of the evening is kept to the end of the evening where parents who are trying to — so this happened two board meetings ago — you know, a charter school is either gonna remain open or remain closed depending on the board's vote that particular night. And so the parents are there advocating for their school to remain open, and they're there 'til 10:30 at night. Their kids have to go to bed. And, and it's just awkward, unnecessarily awkward, because the actual substance of what's being discussed at that meeting up until 10:00, 10:30, the substance of that actually could have been dealt with earlier.

EC: Okay. And then this is a question just for you. So you've been criticized for blending public education with religion. Do you think religion belongs in public education?

JB: Hmm. I think if the community doesn't want religion in public education, then it doesn't need to be there. And I really think it needs to be up to the community. I would love to hear these criticisms, and my phone number is on my website. People are free to contact me directly. My e-mail and phone number are there. So I've actually not heard that. I would like to find out specifically what that is.

EC: Well, I saw it on social media. It was a clip of you at something called City Elders, saying God had said that it was your race to lose. And I think you said public schools were demonic.

JB: That's a, yeah, that's a very, very poor transcription of what I said.

EC: Yeah, you can correct me.

JB: The statement that I said, and I'm recalling this, is that talking about the way that God wants schools to operate is basically talking about this upside down board that we have at Tulsa Public Schools. So if I were speaking to a non-religious audience, I would simply talk about how, you know, legally we do not have an independent board that we should have. On paper, these are independent board members who meet the qualifications set by the state of Oklahoma. In practice, though, it's clear that for whatever reason, at least four of our board members are beholden to some kind of special political interests that have some kind of predetermined political agenda, and they're not operating in an independent way and listening to the feedback of the community. So that is a way I would might word it to a different audience.

EC: Okay. And then my last question is, do you think that TPS should be broken up into smaller pieces, or do you agree with Ryan Walters on other issues?

JB: I would strongly need to look at the details of either the idea of breaking up TPS into smaller districts or at other proposals that Ryan is putting forward. So Ryan Walters is putting forward some bold, big changes and being very public about them. At this point, they're more, it sounds, it's almost like he's still campaigning. I'm ready for him to move into administrating, if that makes sense.

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.