TPS District 5
Tulsa Public Schools Board District 5 incumbent faces challenger Teresa Peña on Tuesday, April 2, 2024. (NonDoc)

Midtown residents in Tulsa Public School Board District 5 face a choice between keeping current representative John Croisant in office or replacing him with retired TPS administrator Teresa Peña during an April 2 election. Early voting is set for March 28 and 29 at the Tulsa County Election Board.

Croisant, the only incumbent running for reelection in three TPS races, has campaigned largely on touting district improvements made during his tenure. But Croisant has also faced questions about district management during his tenure, including the embezzlement of $603,992 by former TPS administrator Devin Fletcher.

“I’m at every meeting, which is not the case for everyone on our board,” Croisant said. “I want to hear from teachers, I want hear from students, I want to hear from all of the public.”

Peña’s campaign has focused on her decades of experience working in TPS and her work teaching English as a second language to students and parents. Citing her experience, Peña has advocated for a stronger voice for non-English speaking parents on the Board.

“If you look at our data within Tulsa Public Schools, we have 37 percent who are Hispanic and they need a voice. If we want local control, we need to have a voice from our parents,” Peña said. “I teach English language to refugees so they can speak and be able to communicate with the schools.”

But allegations that she has been endorsed by the chairwoman of the Tulsa chapter of Moms for Liberty — a controversial organization simultaneously praised and criticized for trying to pull books with mature content from school libraries — have trailed Peña throughout her campaign. However, Peña has denied being affiliated with Moms for Liberty and has attempted to distance herself from the organization.

While final fundraising figures will not be released until after the election, early numbers indicated the race in TPS District 5 may be the most expensive school board race of the cycle, with both candidates raising about $10,000 by January.

Croisant has an incumbency advantage and endorsements from the Tulsa World and Protect TPS, but Peña’s fundraising and education background present a formidable challenge for the incumbent board vice president.

Croisant and Peña share education background

Tulsa Public Schools 5th District includes much of midtown Tulsa. (Screenshot)

First elected in 2020, Croisant launched his reelection campaign Aug. 10.

“I’m not a politician. I’m a teacher, coach, and parent first and foremost,” Croisant wrote in his reelection campaign announcement. “However, extremist, partisan politicians are making blatantly false statements about Tulsa Public Schools and trying to usurp the will of the public-school families and residents in Tulsa. I am here to say that I will not tolerate this kind of rhetoric.”

Croisant owns an Allstate Insurance agency, and he graduated from the University of Tulsa with a bachelor’s degree in education and political science in 1999. After starting his teaching career in New Orleans, he returned to Tulsa and taught at Edison Middle School while coaching girls’ soccer at Edison High School between 2006 and 2018.

Peña launched her campaign in November. She’s a retired Tulsa Public Schools teacher, administrator and an alum of Will Rogers High School. She taught at Disney Elementary, Carver Middle School, Memorial Middle School, Clinton Middle School, Rogers High School, Franklin Youth Academy and Wilson Learning Academy.

“We need local control,” Peña said at a Feb. 27 candidate forum. “We have to have a good school system, because if we don’t have a good school system, that will also move into our city. And we must have good workers, we must have good business owners, and we must be able to bring in different businesses to our community.”

Fluent in English and Spanish, Peña helps teach English language classes to immigrants in Tulsa. She earned degrees from Tulsa Community College, the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University.

Embezzlement, Moms for Liberty questions loom over campaigns

Devin Fletcher guilty
Former Tulsa Public Schools administrator Devin Fletcher pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud on Monday, Oct. 30, 2023. (NonDoc)

At the February candidate forum, Croisant was asked what he would do to prevent future embezzlement at TPS, a reference to Devin Fletcher‘s theft of about $603,992 from TPS and the Foundation for Tulsa Schools.

“I’m the chair of the finance committee, and I came in just a few months before Devin was caught,” Croisant said. “In any large organization, there may be people that try to defraud students, that try to defraud the public. You have to have everything set up to where those things can’t happen.”

He also said the district had hired new auditors since the incident and updated policies to prevent future embezzlement.

“We’ve been able to implement some new regulations to try to make sure these things don’t happen again,” Croisant said. “A lot of this is if you hire the wrong people, and they want to hurt kids by taking money from them, I feel like if there is anything we can throw at them it (should) get thrown at them.”

Criticism of Peña has largely stemmed from hiring Charity Marcus to manage her campaign, which has raised some eyebrows among Tulsa’s political observers because Marcus previously managed the campaign of controversial board member E’Lena Ashley.

Asked at the forum about her supposed relationship to Tulsa’s Moms for Liberty chapter, Peña denied being affiliated with the group.

“So, I have never met with anybody from Moms for Liberty. I know nothing about their leadership, and I’ve never accepted a dime from Moms for Liberty,” Peña said. “I believe in Tulsa Public Schools’ school union. I was a member my whole career. I don’t believe in banning books.”