After cancelling a meeting Monday night, controversial Western Heights Public Schools Board of Education President Robert Everman, along with members Linda Farley and Robert Sharp, resigned from their offices today following a multi-year fight with the Oklahoma State Department of Education and harsh criticism from parents in the troubled district.
“It is with a heavy heart, yet contented spirit, I announce my retirement as a member of the Western Heights Board of Education,” Everman wrote in his resignation letter, which is embedded below. “I do so not due to any offers or public pressure, but as a result of personal health issues.”
Everman served on Western Heights’ board for more than 27 years, including eight as president.
Neither Sharp nor Farley offered specific reasons for their resignations, but both had consistently voted with Everman on board matters, such as when he opposed the State Department of Education’s efforts to intervene in district affairs.
In her letter, Farley said she resigned “with great trepidation and sorow (sic).” In June 2020, Farley made headlines for drinking a Corona beer on Zoom during a school board meeting. One month prior, she had posted a photo of a Corona on Facebook with the caption, “My way of fighting the virus!” After the Zoom incident, Farley said she had been fighting an infection and drank the beer to “flush out my kidneys.”
The three resignations came as a surprise to other officials of the southwest Oklahoma City district.
“This is a complete blindside,” board member Briana Flatley said. “It was a complete shock to me. (…) The community knew before I did.”
District Superintendent Brayden Savage, who was appointed to the position after the State Board of Education took control of the district, celebrated the news in a statement posted on the district’s website.
“These resignations certainly indicate that today is a new day in Western Heights! After the past several years of fighting, the students, families, staff, and community of Western Heights deserve a positive time of healing and growth,” Savage said. “While we recognize that these turns of events create a unique situation for our district, we are working in partnership with the Oklahoma State Department of Education and State Superintendent Hoffmeister (sic) on how to proceed.”
Flatley said the district is ready for change.
“Over the last two and half years, Western Heights residents have advocated for change in our schools,” Flatley said. “I want to thank them for their unwavering dedication and commitment to our students and our district. Today’s events represent a fresh start for Western Heights Public Schools. As a board member, I look forward to focusing on the needs of our students and providing more consistent and stable governance for our schools. We will be working in partnership with the Oklahoma State Department of Education to determine the next steps of the appointment process.”
According to Flatley and fellow board member Darrin Dunkin, Monday night’s scheduled board meeting was cancelled because Everman, Farley and Sharp had said they could not attend. (The board’s Oct. 10 meeting was also cancelled.) The absence of three members from a five-member board prevented the quorum needed to convene and take action. With those three seats now empty, it is unclear when the Western Heights board will be able to resume meeting.
“These resignations, while long overdue, are a triumph for the families and students of the Western Heights school district,” State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said in a statement. “We applaud this as a major step forward in regaining the trust of the community and providing the high-quality education all Oklahoma children need and deserve. Unfortunately, however, the orchestration of these three resignations — all occurring at the same time — is not altogether well-intentioned. By ensuring there will not be a quorum, these members are hobbling the ability of the district to conduct important business until a new member is appointed by the governor. Ultimately these departures will benefit the district, but it seems these board members had one final game to play.”
State statute allows the governor to appoint district board of education members when a board does not have enough members for a quorum. Once a board has enough members to take action, it can govern itself under its own rules to hold elections to fill the remaining seats.
Robert Everman gone, Mannix Barnes (sort of) remains
Everman had been under intense pressure from parents and the State Department of Education to step down. Members of the Western Heights community regularly interrupted board meetings by shouting for Everman, Farley and Sharp to resign, and OSDE was pursuing litigation in Oklahoma County District Court to remove Everman from his post.
On Oct. 4, the Oklahoma Supreme Court dealt a blow to Everman when it unanimously affirmed OSDE’s takeover of the district. Everman had challenged the legality of the State Board of Education’s July 2021 vote to do so.
The state board took over the district owing to a number of issues and administrators’ refusal to heed OSDE recommendations. The district had sustained a 23 percent loss in students from 2020 to 2021 and had seen a number of educators leave the district. District leadership had also stopped providing nutritional services to students.
Since then, Everman had sometimes refused to acknowledge state actions and, for a board meeting in September 2021, had even posted a competing agenda to the one posted by the state-appointed interim superintendent.
State action in the district has consisted of forcing new hires and investigating district operations. An audit presented to the board in August showed 19 deficiencies in the district, including an unauthorized $25,000 bonus paid to former superintendent Mannix Barnes, who was suspended when OSDE took control of the district.
Barnes and Everman have a long and bizarre professional relationship that extends beyond their tenure leading Western Heights. As Everman leaves the district, Barnes remains employed but suspended and is awaiting a Dec. 6 hearing to formally revoke his superintendent certificate.
Notices of Monday night’s board meeting cancellation indicated that a special meeting would be scheduled soon, but the district has not posted a date yet.