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Gov. Stitt requests special audit of Oklahoma's largest school district

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Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt announces his call for a special audit of Tulsa Public Schools in a video on Thursday.

Gov. Kevin Stitt says he’s requesting an audit of Tulsa Public Schools.

Stitt made the announcement in a Twitter video posted Thursday afternoon.

Stitt has been highly critical of TPS for roughly two years, publicly lambasting the district for staying closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. At one point, Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist described the governor as a “bully.”

In comments to reporters late Thursday, Tulsa Superintendent Gist said she was confident that proper protocols were in place and the school district was working with law enforcement to investigate the matter.

She said that the district is concerned about potential violations of protocols and procedures, but ultimately she said she was waiting for law enforcement and TPS employees to make determinations.

Ultimately, she said the call for an audit was a distraction, especially as Stitt and a member of his cabinet face extra scrutiny for financial mismanagement.

"I think that it's important to consider the source," Gist said. This is a governor, Kevin Stitt, and his colleague [Secretary of Education] Ryan Walters wrote an $18 million check to an out-of-state entity with no cost, no vetting process. And already a review of that has identified at least half a million dollars in inappropriate, questionable funds from people buying everything from car stereos to gaming consoles to power washers, and including about $200,000 in televisions. So I think it's important to keep context in place."

Now, Stitt is asking State Auditor Cindy Byrd to conduct an investigative audit of TPS. In his video, he mentioned an accusation of Tulsa Schools violating Oklahoma’s so-called Critical Race Theory ban, which was discussed by Oklahoma’s State Board of Education last month.

“I firmly believe that not one cent of taxpayer money should be used to define and divide young Oklahomans by their race or sex,” Stitt said in the video. “Let's teach students, not indoctrinate them.”

Stitt's letter to Byrd requesting the audit laid out three reasons for requesting the audit:

  • “Tulsa School Board  Members for Districts 3 and 4 disclosed to me that most board members were left “in the dark” while the TPS Superintendent conducted an internal investigation into what one Tulsa World article described as ‘almost $20,000 in irregularities tied to a vendor contract  within the district’s Talent Management Department.’ According to Tulsa School Board Members, there is ‘substantiating evidence’ that this   mishandling of public funds ‘is not a one-time situation but a pattern of operation.’”
  • “TPS has been allocated three rounds of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds, totaling a little more than $205 million. Although ESSER funds were intended to minimize disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic and support the well-being of  students, TPS stayed closed over 300 days—longer than any other school district.”
  • “Sources have publicly indicated TPS may have conducted a training in contravention of House Bill 1775 and the administrative rules adopted in  response to the legislation, which banned the teaching of critical race theory.”

The request drew praise from another Tulsa Public Schools’ critic, Secretary of Education Ryan Walters. Walters is in a runoff race with Shawnee Public Schools Superintendent April Grace for the GOP nomination for State Superintendent for Public Instruction.

“We have a superintendent here who has bought in fully to the Woke agenda and has not put students first,” Walters said of Gist.

Updated: July 8, 2022 at 9:31 AM CDT
Added a response from Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist.
Robby Korth joined KOSU as its news director in November 2022.
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