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Embezzlement, ties to political groups at issue in District 5 school board race

MAX BRYAN: Tulsa’s school board election is coming up. One of the more closely watched races is between Teresa Peña and John Croisant in District 5. KWGS’ Elizabeth Caldwell went to a forum at Edison High School hosted by Tulsa’s League of Women Voters. She’s here to tell us more. Hi Elizabeth.


BRYAN: So what did you hear from the candidates?

CALDWELL: They weren’t divided on much. Both of them used to be teachers. Teresa Peña has talked up her experience as a teacher before, but John Croisant, at past events, spent more time emphasizing his current seat on the board because he’s the incumbent. But at this particular forum, he talked a lot about being a teacher. Here’s a clip of that:

JOHN CROISANT: I got on the board four years ago after being a teacher here in this building at Edison for 12 years. I was a sixth grade geography teacher, as well as the head girl's soccer coach.

BRYAN: And what did Peña talk about?

CALDWELL: Well, she emphasized local control. One point where the two candidates did sort of diverge was when they were asked about uncertified staff at the administrative level. Croisant said it’s the board’s job to hire the superintendent, and through choosing the superintendent the board weighs in on staffing. Peña went a step further, she said she would question the superintendent if someone thought to be unqualified was hired or promoted.

TERESA PEÑA: Give me a report on some of the hiring that has been done, and does that hiring match the job description that has been written for that position?

BRYAN: So one thing I’ve heard about Peña is that she’s connected to Moms for Liberty. Now, this is a group, that nationally at least, has advocated for removing novels like The Kite Runner from schools. Did anybody bring that up?

CALDWELL: Nope, nobody brought that up until I was chatting with folks after the event. So I reached out to Moms for Liberty. I talked to Janice Danforth, who’s the chair of the Tulsa chapter. She said she made a personal post in favor of Peña to the Moms for Liberty Facebook group, but that there was no formal endorsement. Danforth said she doesn’t really know Peña but she supports her mostly because she would unseat an incumbent, she doesn’t like the current school board.

JANICE DANFORTH: So, to me, almost anybody fresh out is gonna be a good idea.

BRYAN: And the question around Croisant is that he was on the board when there was some financial questions, like some bonuses that went to Tulsa Public Schools administrative staff through an associated foundation. There was a school board meeting recently where there was some public comment on that. Here’s Tulsan Melissa Remington.

MELISSA REMINGTON: This is not your money to decide what we get to do with it. The foundation sits there as to better our children’s education, not to better your pocketbooks.

CALDWELL: Yeah, so Croisant was on the board for some of that, and basically what happened, is, according to The Tulsa World, the nonprofit Foundation for Tulsa Schools gave as much as $35,000 in donations to certain administrators at TPS. These were billed as COVID bonuses. As you heard, there’s some people who are unhappy about that, including the local teacher’s association. They put out a statement saying they were disheartened that so much money was paid out to leadership during a time when everyone was tired and stressed. Croisant was also on the board when TPS self-reported some embezzlement by a former employee. He has said that he is not in charge of who gets hired by the district and he doesn’t have knowledge of these incidents.

BRYAN: Okay, so, that’s the District 5 seat. Just to wrap up, can you give us a rundown of the other candidates?

CALDWELL: Yeah, so, Calvin Moniz is facing KanDee Washington in District 2. And then Sarah Smith is facing Maria Seidler for District 6.

BRYAN: And listeners can read more about those candidates in the articles that you’ve written for our website. Tulsans will go to the polls for this election Tuesday. Thanks Elizabeth.

CALDWELL: Thanks Max.

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.
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.