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Candidates for Tulsa school board answer questions about ties to Ryan Walters, embezzlement

Candidates for the Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education met Tuesday night to answer questions from the city’s newspaper staff. Two reporters and an editor from the Tulsa World quizzed four board hopefuls during a forum at the University of Tulsa.

Calvin Moniz who is vying to represent District 2 said current board members who don’t do their homework before board meetings should be ashamed, though he didn’t name names.

“And we’re not getting to the meat of an agenda until 11 o’clock at night. Parents can’t be engaged, and the community can’t be engaged. It's wrong for those board members to take up the time that they're doing not doing their homework,” said Moniz.

Teresa Peña is running for District 5. Peña is using public relations professional Charity Marcus for her campaign. Marcus helped current member E’Lena Ashley win her seat. Ashley has appeared at several events, including a "religious freedom rally," with controversial state Superintendent Ryan Walters.

Peña said no one recruited her to run.

“I had just retired in July and I told everybody I was gonna live the good life, and I started watching the school board and I started watching what was coming down from the state, and I saw the chaos,” said Peña.

Tulsa World editorial writer Ginnie Graham questioned Peña on her link to Moms for Liberty that may have endorsed Peña. Moms for Liberty is a political organization whose members have most recently supported banning novels like “The Kite Runner” from school libraries. The group has also clashed with teachers unions.

Peña said she has never met with Moms for Liberty, she does not support banning books, and she was a member of the TPS union during her more than 30 year career as a teacher and administrator at TPS.

Peña is opposing incumbent John Croisant, who also attended the forum. Reporter Andrea Eger questioned him on how he would prevent embezzlement in the future. TPS stands to recoup hundreds of thousands of dollars as a result of an embezzlement case against former senior administrator Devin Fletcher.

Croisant struggled to answer the question, pointing out that he is not an “HR person” but that ultimately TPS needs to continue to learn from its mistakes

“I think what we have to do is ask how did this happen, why did it happen, and how can we fix it?”

Sarah Smith is running for District 6. Smith said she was interested in serving on the board’s finance committee to help shore up safeguards to lessen fraud.

“I would love to be part of the process to vet vendors and reviewing the new guidelines to make sure those are truly able to prevent improprieties in the future,” said Smith.

Smith’s opponent Maria Seidler was not present at the forum. Moniz’s opponent in District 2, KanDee Washington, was also absent.

Tulsans will vote in the school board election on April 2.

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.