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Tulsa Public Schools superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist told media she “welcomes” the state audit demanded by Governor Stitt.
“I want all of our taxpayer dollars to be carefully managed,” Gist said. “[We] look forward to collaborating with [the state auditor’s] office to see what more we can do to be good stewards of the funds that are entrusted to us on behalf of children.”
Last week, the superintendent and TPS alumnus made the public aware of the mismanagement of “less than $20,000” in private funds. Dr. Gist says she immediately sought the counsel of the District Attorney and took direct personnel action as soon as she became aware of the issue.
“It’s difficult to know that we’ve had this incident,” Gist said, “but I’m going to handle it like we handle everything, which is to dive in and do what we need to do to make improvements.”
Gist said she “has confidence” in the practices and processes of the district. She also noted that if the audit reveals issues within district management practices, she will take action.
“We need to know about [any issues] and make sure we are continually improving,” Gist said.
The superintendent did warn that the audit ordered by Stitt will cost the district money.
“I think it’s important for Tulsans to understand that we will pay for this audit,” Gist said. “We don’t yet know the cost of that, but we will have to determine out of our very stretched budget how we will pay for [it].”
Governor and Education Secretary attack TPS, but fail to offer evidence
Gist’s statement comes a day after Governor Kevin Stitt announced he was calling for an audit of Tulsa Public Schools. In video posted to Twitter, Stitt insinuates the district ‘misused public dollars’ and was “teaching CRT”.
“TPS received over 200 million dollars in COVID Federal Relief funds. TPS also stayed closed the longest – over 300 consecutive days,” he said.
Those 300 days, however, include summer break and weekends when school is not in session.
Almost immediately after Stitt’s video, Secretary of Education Ryan Walters posted a video of his own. The video, uploaded to Twitter, depicts Walters cheering on the audit from his car.
“We have a superintendent here who has bought in fully to the woke agenda,” Walters said. “This [audit] is the accountability and transparency the governor and I are committed to.”
In a statement to The Black Wall Street Times, Tulsa Public Schools refuted the governor’s claims the district “misused public funds”.
“Based on our internal investigation, the funds involved were from a single philanthropic donor and did not involve taxpayer dollars,” TPS communications director Emma Garrett Nelson wrote.
Stitt’s tactics are ‘unsettling’ and ‘political theater’, superintendent says
While Stitt and Walters manage their own financial scandals, Dr. Gist calls their attacks “completely baseless”.
“What happened yesterday, from Stitt and from Walters, was absolutely political theater,” Gist asserted in an interview on KRMG Friday morning. “I think Oklahomans are smart enough to see through it.”
“When it comes to these two people, you can take your pick of things to begin to investigate”, she continued. “Every time Oklahomans turn around, there’s another scandal [with Stitt].”
Gist cited the administration’s decision to write “an $18 million check” using taxpayer dollars without proper oversight. That money, intended to support Oklahoma schools, instead went elsewhere. Approximately $8 million was haphazardly sent to families to support the purchase of educational resources. Instead, the lack of “guardrails” lead to the purchase of hundreds of thousands of dollars in TVs, grills, stereo equipment and more, an investigation by the Frontier uncovered.
Another $10 million went toward private school vouchers. Nearly $3 million was never spent and the state was forced to return the money to the federal government.
“In my experience, I have seen this kind of behavior before,” she said of the attacks on TPS. “Every single time I’ve seen it, people have something to hide and the practice they take is to deflect.”
She said the political theaters from state leaders is “an absolute and utter distraction”.
“It’s the kind of thing I think people are really tired of seeing happen,” Gist said.