Tulsa School Board Members say lack of transparency is why they asked Gov. Stitt for special audit

TULSA, Okla. — Friday morning the two Tulsa School Board members who sent Gov. Kevin Stitt a letter July 1 requesting a special audit of Tulsa Public Schools held a press conference, flanked by Ryan Walters, Stitt’s appointed Secretary of Education.

FOX23 News was there to learn why the two school board members felt taking this step was necessary.

“If per chance, they don’t find anything, praise God,” said Dr. Jennettie Marshall, District 3 Tulsa School Board Member. “But the bottom line is once this audit is done, number one hopefully it can bring the community back together, hopefully it can restore some trust, but right now there’s no trust.”

Dr. Marshall, who has served on the school board for five years, said she believes a forensic investigative audit is warranted in addition to a performance audit. She also expressed concern over what she calls a lack of transparency:

“A few weeks ago, the constituents of this district watched as the board pushed through a 252 item consent agenda that lacked public input and board input prior to the meeting.”

Dr. Marshall said those consent agenda items totaled approximately $89 million.

She added that during her tenure on the board she has continuously asked for bidder and company portfolios before a vote is conducted.

Dr. Marshall talked the lack of transparency when it came to asking for background information on Snickelbox LLC, which she said is at the center of controversy now.

Newly elected District 4 board member E’lena Ashley joined Dr. Marshall in sending the letter to the governor requesting the audit.

“I am very grateful that Governor Stitt heard our requests and the voices of many parents, teachers, taxpayers, and call for this audit to be conducted by the Oklahoma State Auditor Cindy Bryd,” Ashley said.

Stitt’s Education Secretary, Ryan Walters, was asked for specifics on why the need for a special audit. Walters re-iterated the themes Stitt hit on in his remarks sent out on Twitter on Thursday.

“Tulsa Public Schools received more federal funds than any other school in the state of Oklahoma to stay open during the pandemic, Tulsa Public Schools was closed longer than any other school during the pandemic, so how was that money used, was it appropriately used, we also have an allegations of a violation of state law by Tulsa Public Schools.”

Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist called Friday’s press conference “political theater” and said she welcomes an audit.

“I have been very clear that I welcome any review of our practices and processes both because I have confidence in them,” said Dr. Gist, “but also because if there is anything that we need to learn, anything that we need to correct, we need to know about that and make sure that we’re continually improving.”

When asked about Governor Stitt’s intention to focus on how COVID dollars have been spent by the District, Dr. Gist said it came out of nowhere.

“That particular issue that was raised is an example of something that seemed to come from nowhere, the issue that we’ve been looking into locally, there’s no evidence connected to those funds,” Dr. Gist.

Dr. Gist said she is confident that TPS handled those funds correctly.

The local issue involves the misuse or loss of philanthropic funding surrounding Tulsa Public Schools’ Talent Department. The employee involved has resigned, and Dr. Gist confirmed the amount being investigated is less than $20,000.

She said she asked for an external review after being made aware of the situation:

“We take all of this very seriously,” Dr. Gist said, “Which I why I’ve been so transparent, why I acted so decisively and so swiftly on all of this.”

When asked if the money’s gone missing or has been misused, Dr. Gist said that’s what’s under investigation right now.

In terms of the special audit that Governor Stitt is asking for, Dr. Gist says the school district will have to pay for it. Neither Gist nor Ryan Walters were able to provide an estimate on how much this may cost at this time.