Western Heights
The Western Heights Board of Education held a regular meeting on Monday, Aug. 9, 2021, where concerns regarding the first day of school were expressed during public comment. (Megan Prather)

Western Heights Public Schools parent Amy Boone expressed concern about the start of the school year during the public comment portion of a meeting of the district’s Board of Education on Monday evening.

“On the 18th of August, this district will be re-opened to full-time learning for the first time in over 500 days. In those 500 days, the administration, the board and legal advisors have done nothing to ensure the safe return of these students to these schools,” Boone said. “Here we are nine days before the doors open to our school and this administration is rushing to get staffed, refusing to do repairs and acting as if everything is fine and that this is a common occurrence at every school district.”

The district has been plagued by a number of problems in recent months. During a hearing in Oklahoma County District Court last week regarding who has control over day-to-day operations at Western Heights following a declared takeover of the district by the State Board of Education (which Western heights has opposed), the state board said it had found that the district had only only two busses operational to pass inspection, out of a fleet of 34. Also last week, News9 reported that during a tour of Western Heights’ facilities, state officials discovered that several air conditioning units were broken or not functioning properly. There was also reported water damage in a gym and bathrooms.

Western Heights’ school year is scheduled to begin on Aug. 18.

“How do we in good conscience let our kids be in buildings that are mold infested? So much mold that it’s growing on furniture?” Boone said to NonDoc. “John Glenn (Elementary) has a sewage back-up. That’s not safe at all.”

‘You are not telling the truth’

Teresa Alstatt works for Southwest Food Excellence and is the kitchen manager at Council Grove Elementary School in the Western Heights district. She used the public comment section to express concern about the district’s child nutrition services.

“Child nutrition is not ready and the kitchens are not clean,” Alstatt said. “We have to come in on the 16th and deep clean, get in order and prep food for the 18th when the kids come back, because the 17th is for training. One day is all we get for cleaning, so for you to say the kitchens are clean, stocked and ready — you are not telling the truth….”

The board did hear a capitol improvement update from the district’s operations manager, Paula Stewart, who painted an only very slightly rosier picture of the district’s bus situation than the state board did last week. She said there are currently 32 busses in the district’s fleet and four were approved as operating today. She said four others are being repaired by Ross Transportation and are supposed to be ready tomorrow, two busses at Rush Truck are waiting to be picked up and three busses at Summit Truck Group are supposedly going to be operating before the Aug. 18.

“We had seven new busses coming from Ross. They said if they are not equip with an air conditioner they will provide us with busses. We will have enough to run our school busses,” Stewart said.

The board also got a personnel update from Human Resources Director Nancy Parrish. A concern cited about the district by the State Board of Education at a meeting in March was the loss of more than 100 staff members in the past two years.

“Right now, we have 218 total certified staff, we have 106 total support staff, we hired nine new personnel in July and as of right now we have 15 first-year emergency certified teachers, and I expect that number to go up,” Parrish said.

Parrish said the district is currently in need of about 29 more personnel to begin the year. During the meeting, board members approved the resignations of 21 certified personnel and five non-certified personnel.

State Board of Education-appointed interim Superintendent Monty Guthrie was not in attendance of the evening’s meeting. However, Western Heights-appointed interim Superintendent Kim Race was in attendance.

‘The kids, parents and teachers in this district need things to start progressing’

Legal counsel for Western Heights and the State Board of Education are scheduled to be in Oklahoma County District Court at 2 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 12, for a hearing about an emergency petition filed by the state board asking a judge to acknowledge the state’s authority over the district.

Last week, Judge Aletia Timmons gave Western Heights eight days to file a response to the state’s writ of mandamus that states that the district has refused to perform certain acts required by law, including acknowledging the authority, powers and duties of the State Board of Education, the State Department of Education and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister.

Community members who had gathered outside before Monday evening’s meeting expressed frustration over their district’s continued resistance to the state’s takeover and called for district board members to resign.

“I understand that there’s certain rules that the judge has to follow, and if she has to give him more time to file a response then that’s what it is,” Boone said. “I appreciate that she didn’t give him an additional 20 days. The kids, parents and teachers in this district need things to start progressing to where our school can open safely.”