A letter from two members of the Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education has prompted Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt today to request that the State Auditor & Inspector’s Office conduct a special audit of the district.
“As one of the largest districts in the state, TPS received over $200 million in COVID federal relief funds. TPS also stayed closed the longest — over 300 days.” Stitt said in a statement. “Board members, parents, students and teachers deserve to know how that money was spent. I’m also concerned that TPS may have violated state law, specifically HB 1775, which bans public schools from teaching critical race theory.”
The audit request comes after reports by the Tulsa World that Tulsa Public Schools officials are cooperating with the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office regarding an investigation into about $20,000 in contract irregularities found within the district’s Talent Management Department. The report states that while the irregularities occurred more two years ago, they weren’t brought to the attention of TPS administration until last month.
On Wednesday, it was reported that the school board would hold a special meeting this evening with an executive session to discuss the resignation of chief talent and equity officer Devin Fletcher and an investigation into claims that an Atlanta-based contractor, Snicklebox LLC., made payments to district employees.
In the letter, which was sent to the governor July 1, school board members E’Lena Ashley and Jennettie Marshall requested the audit owing to the “troubling” information disclosed by Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist.
“There is significant concern and substantiating evidence that processes and state contract laws may have been violated and that this is not a one-time situation, but a pattern of operation,” the letter states.
‘We believe that most of the board members are in the dark’
The letter from board members requesting the audit goes on to allege that members of the Tulsa Public Schools Board were unaware of the investigation being conducted into financial losses, possibly at the hands of a district employee.
“Without further elaboration from Superintendent Gist, we believe that most of the board members are in the dark,” the letter states.
In Stitt’s letter to State Auditor & Inspector Cindy Byrd requesting the audit, the governor outlines the three reasons for the request, including:
- The almost $20,000 in irregularities tied to a vendor contract within the Talent Management Department, which two school board members say was investigated internally while leaving board members in the dark;
- The approximately $205 million in ESSER funds received by the district; and
- Sources who have publicly indicated that TPS may have conducted a training in contradiction to HB 1775 and the administrative rules adopted in response to the legislation, which banned the teaching of critical race theory.
Rep. Monroe Nichols (D-Tulsa) called Stitt out on Twitter, where the announcement about the special audit request was initially posted, and said the governor likely does not understand the definition of critical race theory.
“I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know what CRT is, but based on the makeup of his staff he clearly thinks one race is inherently superior,” Nichols said.
In September, Stitt called for an investigative audit of the State Department of Education. In 2019, he requested an investigative audit of Epic Charter Schools.
Meanwhile, Stitt’s administration has drawn criticism and the interest of federal investigators for how millions of dollars in Governor’s Emergency Education Relief funds were distributed.
(Correction: This article was updated at 10:18 a.m. Friday, July 8, to correct reference to Monroe Nichols’ party affiliation.)