The Edmond Sun

November 1, 2010

‘The bureaucrats just don’t get it’

BRANDON DUTCHER
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — “You’ve done a great thing in Oklahoma,” Sarah Palin said not long ago in Tulsa. Mrs. Palin, the mom of a special-needs child, was referring to a new Oklahoma law that allows parents of special-needs students to choose the safest and best schools for their children, whether those schools are public or private.

Interestingly, Palin’s remarks (see http://bit.ly/atKRnM) came just a few short weeks before some Tulsa-area board members and bureaucrats made the rather startling announcement that they aren’t going to comply with the law, a move that was promptly criticized by the state’s two largest newspapers, a bipartisan group of legislators, and state Superintendent Sandy Garrett.

A seemingly prescient Palin had noted in her Tulsa speech that “instead of removing barriers and opening new paths of opportunity, it seems like, gosh, the bureaucrats just don’t get it. Why make life any tougher or more challenging for these kids and for their families?”

Why indeed. After all, one mom told the Tulsa school board that when her son attended public school he “was harassed daily, beaten by classmates with nunchucks — martial arts weapons — and even shoved against a wall once by a substitute teacher,” the Tulsa World reports. But now that he’s in a private school, she says, “he doesn’t cry when he goes to school. He doesn’t tell us he wants to kill himself anymore.”

Why would a bureaucrat “make life any tougher” for this kid? Why not set him free?

It’s because bureaucrats love building fiefdoms, and they don’t want any revenue units (a.k.a. children) to escape. As Oklahoma City University law professor Andrew Spiropoulos put it, “they would prefer to be cruel to the most vulnerable children in our society than give up a dollar of their precious funding.”

Kirby Lehman is one of those bureaucrats who just doesn’t get it. He complains that helping vulnerable children in Jenks would “erode” education funding, which he’s against, given that it’s already eroded to the point that he is forced to scrape by on $25,000 a month (according to a Tulsa World salary database).

Broken Arrow bureaucrat Jarod Mendenhall doesn’t get it. He assures us “it’s not about the money,” and yet he complains that “we don’t have enough money to fund what we do now.” Of course, what exactly it is they do now isn’t entirely clear, which is why federal, state and local law enforcement officials are investigating his school district.

Tulsa Union bureaucrat Cathy Burden doesn’t get it. Bless her heart, she bemoans the insufficient “commitment to education” being made by the taxpayers who pay her nearly $20,000 every month. And she does it while acknowledging that these uncommitted taxpayers just provided her with “eye-popping” new turf for her football stadium!

Jenks bureaucrat Lisa Muller doesn’t get it. She boasts that her school district serves special-needs students “very well,” and indeed is renowned for it (which presumably justifies her compensation of nearly $8,000 per month). It doesn’t seem to occur to her that if Jenks really is as good as she says it is, then obviously parents will choose it voluntarily. If the district is that good, why would it need to lock the doors to keep students from leaving?

Tulsa bureaucrat Keith Ballard doesn’t get it. He helpfully informs us that, “philosophically, I do not agree with providing public dollars for private school tuition.” Of course, philosophically, he is always free to quit his $21,000-a-month job and try to get elected to the state Legislature. That’s where laws are made.

Fortunately, some bureaucrats do get it. “I believe it’s a poor civics lesson for our children to thumb your nose at a law passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor,” state Superintendent Sandy Garrett told the Tulsa World.

“When I took office as superintendent of public instruction, I swore an oath to obey federal and state laws,” she told CapitolBeatOK. “I have sought every day to uphold that promise. Whether or not I like a particular law is not material. It is my job to obey the law and to implement it.

“The way I look at it, the local officials on these boards of education who have acted not to comply, or to prevent implementation of this program in their districts, are not fulfilling their duties. I believe they are in violation of their oaths of office.”

So hats off to Sandy Garrett. But shame on those bureaucrats who “just don’t get it.” As Mrs. Palin asked, “Why make life any tougher or more challenging for these kids and for their families?”



BRANDON DUTCHER, an Edmond resident, is vice president for policy at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), a conservative think tank. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/brandon

dutcher.