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Oklahoma governor appoints new member to embattled Western Heights school board

Western Heights High School in southwest Oklahoma City, Okla.
Western Heights
Western Heights High School in southwest Oklahoma City, Okla.

The Western Heights Board of Education is back in business following Gov. Kevin Stitt’s appointment of a new board member. The move comes in response to the resignation of three board members who oversaw multiple operational failures.

Robert Everman was the former Western Heights school board president, and he’ll be replaced by Jerome Johnson — a father of two children who attend an elementary school in the district. Johnson came from a list of candidates compiled by the district’s administration and reviewed by the state Board of Education, which ultimately recommended him to the governor.

Everman and two other members who regularly vote with him resigned last month, leading to the district not having enough personnel on its board to hold meetings.

The Oklahoma Board of Education had been calling for Everman to resign for over a year, saying he’s a “cancer” and “scorn” on the district. Everman said his departure wasn’t due to public pressure, but rather was a result of personal health issues.

Last year, the state Board suspended Western Heights’ superintendent — who had what was described as an “incestuous” business relationship with Everman — installed its own and took over district operations. This came after massive losses of students and employees, financial mismanagement, retaliatory behavior toward staff and parents, and some of the lowest academics in the state.

Everman unsuccessfully fought the takeover and tried to block the release of an audit showing incorrect reporting and over a million dollars spent in violation of the district’s bid policy. The Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector’s office is currently investigating Western Heights’ financial reports.

Western Heights’ school board may appoint two members to replace the other resignations in the meantime, but one of those positions is up for election in the next few months. A primary election for the District 3 position is scheduled for Feb. 14, and the general election will be April 4. Three contenders are vying for the open seat.

Update: Tuesday, Dec. 13

At Monday’s school board meeting, the Western Heights Board of Education accepted the resignation of its embattled superintendent, Mannix Barnes.

Barnes served as superintendent at Western Heights, where he earned $220,000 a year — one of the highest superintendent wages in the state.

During his two-year tenure, the outgoing superintendent oversaw two years of operational failures that led to the district being put on probation and investigations by the state auditor and OSBI. The district spent nearly $370,000 in legal fees to fight the state board of education over Mannix’s subsequent suspension.

Barnes has been accused of having a cozy relationship with Robert Everman, the now-ousted school board president, after having worked with him in other positions for over a decade.

Barnes’ district contract was set to expire in 2024, but he agreed to retire at the end of this calendar year, be stripped of his educator’s certificate and is barred from suing the district in the future. And for that, he’ll get a $150,000 settlement.

In a statement, the district acknowledged the settlement might not be popular, but that it was necessary to avoid a lengthy trial and legal fees — especially because the district has already spent over half a million dollars in legal fees since June last year.

Beth Wallis is StateImpact Oklahoma's education reporter.
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