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Member eligibility questions loom over Oklahoma charter school board officer election

 April 2023 meeting of the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board
Beth Wallis
StateImpact Oklahoma
April 2023 meeting of the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board

Oklahoma’s Statewide Virtual Charter School Board elected its last round of officers before the board dissolves next year at Monday’s board meeting.

Despite an open question about whether board member Brian Bobek can even begin his term on the board, he was elected to the vice chairperson position. Robert Franklin will continue serving as chair, and William Pearson was elected as board clerk.

Though Bobek has been attending and voting in board meetings since June, the Oklahoma attorney general’s office says state law doesn’t allow Bobek to serve until November.

Franklin said, as he has before, he worries Bobek’s uncertain eligibility status will throw into question the decisions the board has made since Bobek took the seat.

“My only concern is — and I think I’ve said this since the beginning — is, I am worried about Mr. Bobek’s service on the board. I respect that he is here. I respect what he’s doing,” Franklin said. “But the technicality of whether that meets muster or not is, I think, my biggest concern.”

Bobek’s eligibility question is one of the big potential hangups to the board’s controversial split decision in June to approve the application for the St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual Charter School — which would be the nation’s first publicly funded religious school.

In an eleventh-hour move before the June board meeting, board member Barry Beauchamp was replaced with Bobek, a former State Board of Education member. He received the appointment from House Speaker Charles McCall.

But just before that meeting, Oklahoma Deputy Attorney General Niki Batt — who serves as the board’s legal counsel — emailed board leaders to outline her concern that the law may not technically allow Bobek to take over the seat until November.

Without Bobek’s vote, St. Isidore’s application wouldn’t have been approved. But the members didn’t see the email in time, and the vote went through 3-2.

It’s unclear how many decisions Bobek has voted on that could be affected by his eligibility status.

A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office said the issue is out of its hands:

“If the legitimacy of Mr. Bobek’s presence on the board is challenged, it would come from a third-party litigant. We responded to a question from the board chair and expressed our concerns regarding the timing of the term, but that’s the extent of it from our end.”

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Beth Wallis is StateImpact Oklahoma's education reporter.
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