124 years ago in April 1887, British historian, politician and writer Lord John Dalberg-Acton penned his most famous quote in a letter. Lord Acton wrote, “All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Concerning that now well-known pronouncement, Steve Palmer with the Tenth Amendment Center writes, “We can rephrase Acton’s observation and apply it to today’s world by saying that the more power we give our elected officials, the more corrupt they will be.”
If Acton and Palmer are correct, Oklahomans best be prepared for some major corruption at the State Department of Education. Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi now holds more power than any former holder of her office.
Quickly after the contentious first board meeting with Barresi as Superintendent, the Oklahoma Legislature passed House Bill 2139. HB2139 takes power away from the Board of Education and bestows it on Supt. Barresi. Governor Mary Fallin proudly signed the bill into law. In an April 8, 2011 press release Gov. Fallin said, “In Oklahoma, the superintendent of public instruction is elected based upon the ideas and agenda they present to voters. And the superintendent – not the unelected Board of Education – should have the power to run the Education Department.”
The transfer of power was scheduled to go into effect in August, but at the last Board of Education meeting on Monday, May 9, 2011, the board voted to go ahead and transfer the power immediately to Supt. Barresi.
Promptly after Monday’s board meeting adjourned, Supt. Barresi’s chief of staff (who was only officially hired at Monday’s board meeting) began firing employees. Resignations came the following day, and then more firings came on Thursday.
One of those fired on Monday was Jack Herron, assistant state superintendent for financial services. At a press conference Thursday, he said the contentious board meeting in January was “staged.” Here is a brief clip from his press conference provided by NewsOk.com.
On Thursday the executive director of fiscal services was fired. This person was over contracts, invoices, reimbursements – all the daily operations of the department.
It appears that the employees targeted first for the chopping block are those in the financial area.
According to the budget proposal agreed upon this week by the Governor and the Legislature, $3.4 billion of the State’s $6.5 billion budget goes to education.
I hope we have some honest and diligent watchdogs, in government and in the press, to follow the actions of
Queen Supt. Janet Barresi. With all the powers now in her hands, she alone has control over more of our tax dollars than all other divisions of state government combined.