Several school buses fail inspection as problems in OKC district worsen

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The problems at Western Heights public schools got serious with two and a half weeks before the first day of school.

Only two of the district’s school buses passed inspection this month, records show. That would not be enough to serve the 2,600 students in the southwestern district of Oklahoma City.

Inspectors discovered a myriad of issues that caused several buses to fail inspections on July 20 and 21, including malfunctioning brakes, headlights, turn signals and wipers.

Some buses had oil and transmission fluid leaks, according to inspection records that the Oklahoma State Department of Education provided to Oklahoma.

The district is mired in a power struggle between the state’s Department of Education and the local school board – a conflict that an Oklahoma County district judge on Monday called “small and motivated by the” egoism ”.

Classrooms and education:State Response, Beginning of Western Heights School District Audit

Western Heights public schools have been placed on probation after staff and families complained of mismanagement.

The state’s Department of Education will “move heaven and earth” to get Western Heights ready for its first day of school on Aug. 18, Superintendent of Public Schools Joy Hofmeister said.

Hofmeister said some in the district, including lawyers, are slowing the process down to a time when “every hour counts and every day counts.”

“We will continue to move forward despite those who may seek to thwart this work,” she told The Oklahoman. “I think there are individuals who are clearly not interested in losing the grip of power and who can be financially motivated.”

Less than a week after the failed bus inspection, a district transportation worker alleged that a Western Heights administrator had suggested a way to “get around safety issues” with school buses, according to an email obtained by The Oklahoman.

The employee said he overheard a conversation on July 27 in which a senior manager offered to call a school bus inspector who could stamp the district inspection reports.

Hofmeister confirmed that the state’s Education Department is investigating the employee’s report.

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Paul McCracken, retired Western Heights Public Schools teacher and coach, hugs Public Schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister following the Oklahoma State Board of Education's July 12 decision to intervene in the troubled school district.

Over the past two years, Western Heights has had disastrous academic results, lost hundreds of staff and teachers, and angered parents and the surrounding community who were furious at the dysfunction of the district.

The Oklahoma State Board of Education has suspended the certification of district superintendent Mannix Barnes over allegations of financial mismanagement and retaliatory behavior.

After a 90-day probationary period, on July 12, the state Board of Education took control of operations in the district and appointed an interim superintendent to run Western Heights for the following year.

Western Heights School Board members opposed state authority and appointed an interim superintendent of their choice.

The local school board chose Kim Race for the interim role, although Race admitted in court documents that she was not qualified to run a school district.

Race said Western Heights is fully prepared for the start of the next school year.

“While we have a lot of minor things to fix, we’re glad we don’t have any major issues to fix,” Race said in a press release Monday. “Even though we have more buses in our fleet than we actually need, we also have seven (7) more new buses on the way, we always want to be ready for any surprises.”

Please help us’:Oklahoma City schools face urgent complaints, district on probation

The Western Heights Public Schools School Board listens to their attorney, Jerry Colclazier, speak at a meeting in the district administration building on Thursday, July 15, 2020.

Oklahoma County District Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons said students attending Western Heights would suffer the most if state and school district officials could not resolve their dispute over who is responsible.

State and school district attorneys appeared before the judge on Monday in a virtual hearing. The state’s Department of Education asked Timmons to force Western Heights to accept state intervention.

Jerry Colclazier, an attorney for Western Heights, said district administrators would not agree to the state takeover unless a court order forces their hand.

Timmons denied an attempt by Western Heights to cancel Monday’s hearing on a procedural matter. Colclazier then requested 20 days to respond to the state intervention – a request that the state education department’s attorney general said was “only for delay.”

Timmons gave the district 10 days to file a response, postponing the hearing until August 12.

“I’m not giving you 20 days on the backs of these kids in Western Heights,” the judge said at the hearing. “Because if it lasts that long, what happens in this district is going to materially affect their education for next year.”

Following:Western Heights School District Rejects Oklahoma Authority, Appoints Its Own Superintendent

Journalist Nuria Martinez-Keel covers Kindergarten to Grade 12 and higher education throughout the state of Oklahoma. Do you have a story idea for Nuria? She can be reached at nmartinez-keel@oklahoman.com or on Twitter at @NuriaMKeel. Support the work of Nuria and that of fellow Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at Subscribe.oklahoman.com.


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