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'Disappointed': Gist responds to Walters' mismanagement accusations, rhetoric

Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist speaks to reporters on Wednesday, July 26, 2023, at the district service center.
Max Bryan
Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist speaks to reporters on Wednesday, July 26, 2023, at the district service center.

Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist is reacting to comments from Ryan Walters.

During a Wednesday press conference, Gist said she believes the state superintendent’s claims about financial mismanagement within the district were in reference to former TPS Chief Learning Officer Devin Fletcher. Fletcher allegedly paid more than $400,000 of TPS or Tulsa Schools Foundation money to relatives.

Walters made the claims about TPS mismanaging money at a "religious freedom rally" held last week. He promised to investigate TPS' accreditation.

Gist said she hasn't hidden the problem with Fletcher.

"I’m as outraged or maybe even more than anyone about that having happened. I have taken full responsibility for the fact that we have handled it. We found it, we reported it, we’ve addressed it. We have done it in every possible way," she said.

Gist said the embezzlement came up in the accreditation process because four districts in Oklahoma, including TPS, had similar issues.

According to records, the Department of Education recommended the district should receive accreditation with deficiencies this year. Gist said the deficiency recommendation was also because of a missed report — there are about 250 reports required from TPS in the accreditation process, she said.

Originally scheduled for Thursday, Department of Education personnel told media on Wednesday TPS’ accreditation vote was moved to August due to “the severity of the allegations and issues." OSDE spokesperson Matt Langston did not immediately respond to a message asking if the district was notified.

Last summer, Walters led a successful charge to lower TPS’ status to “accredited with warning” after claiming the district violated a state law that limits teaching on race or sex. Gist claimed the district has avoided similar incidents for a year, meaning the warning is no longer in effect.

At the rally Friday, Walters said a "woke mob" is operating inside of TPS.

"I see these behaviors, and I feel disappointed. I feel frustrated. I feel sometimes angry, because this is not what kids deserve," Gist said.

Gist also called the state's accreditation process "wildly bureaucratic and completely un-transparent." Langston did not immediately respond to a request for response to her statement.

Max Bryan is a news anchor and reporter for KWGS. A Tulsa native, Bryan worked at newspapers throughout Arkansas and in Norman before coming home to "the most underrated city in America." Several of Bryan's news stories have either led to or been cited in changes both in the public and private sectors.