December 19, 2014

Board of Ed suspends charter school’s funding

The State Board of Education has suspended its funding to Alexis Rainbow Arts Academy until it has provided the board with a variety of records and financial reports.

The board is accusing the northwest Oklahoma City school of 62 students of not producing key administrative and financial records in compliance with state law. Several communication attempts to the school and the limited liability company that manages them have not been successful, Assistant State Superintendent of Accreditation and Compliance Larry Birney said to the board during a regular meeting Thursday.
 Superintendent Janet Barresi said there is evidence of unpaid bills, discrepancies between account money that was stated and what was in bank balances and a lack or nonexistence of records of board meetings. Investigators have also found evidence of the withdrawal of personal checks from school accounts.

Barresi also said that child nutrition officials have been making on-site visits to Alexis Rainbow Arts Academy weekly to make sure nutrition requirements are met. Usually, she said, nutrition officials visit school sites about once each year.

“All in all, an inordinate amount of time and effort has been spent in trying to discern what the issue is,” Barresi said. “We know now that, in our opinion, there is a jeopardy in the way state and federal dollars have been spent and accounted for.”


December 19, 2014

Fallin suggests overhauling budget process

Gov. Mary Fallin said Thursday she hopes to work with lawmakers on what she called an “overhaul” of the state’s budgeting process.

“We need to look at making fundamental changes in our budgeting process, even how the Legislature runs its legislative session,” Fallin said following Thursday’s meeting of the Board of Equalization. “In other words, I think we need to focus more on the budget and revenue streams and even possibly look at doing budgeting every year but maybe doing substantive legislation session every other year.”

It was not the first time Fallin has suggested changes in the budgeting process. One year ago, she and Preston Doerflinger, her secretary of finance, administration and information services and chief budget advisory, began talking about the need to review the amount of money taken “off-the-top.” That is the share of tax money that is dedicated to specific uses and is not deposited in the General Revenue Fund. The General Revenue Fund is the primary source of money for the state’s appropriated budget.


December 19, 2014

Nine bills will become law when the new year begin

One of those bills, had it already taken effect, would have addressed a problem state officials faced earlier this year: The death of a candidate running for election.

Senate Bill 1693, by Sen. Eddie Fields, R-Wynona, and Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell, pertains to death of a political party's nominee for office, stating if the candidate was for county office or candidacy on the State Election Board, a notice of an alternative will be submitted 15 days after said death and no later than 5 p.m. on the Friday following the date of the Runoff Primary Election. The bill states if the political party's central committee fails to submit such notice, then a nominee for that party will not appear on the ballot. The bill defines the procedure in the event of the death of an independent candidate for an office.

Congressional District 2 Democratic candidate Earl Everett passed away Nov. 2, just two days before the Nov. 4 general election, following a traffic accident. He received 24.6 percent of the ballots. Congressman Markwayne Mullin captured 70.0 percent of the ballots cast in the election.


December 19, 2014

Thompson: Merry Christmas bill about freedom

A recently filed bill would allow school districts to educate students about traditional winter celebrations, including Christmas and Hanukkah. SB0040 filed by Sen. Roger Thompson would permit schools to display scenes or symbols associated with traditional winter celebrations, such as a menorah or nativity scene.

According to the bill, the school must display multiple symbols of different traditional winter celebrations. The display must include a scene or symbol of more than one religion or at least one religion and one secular scene or symbol. However, the bill prohibits the display from including a message that encourages adherence to a particular religious belief.

The bill states that school staff and students may offer traditional greetings including, but not limited to, “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah,” and “happy holidays.

Thompson said the bill is important because it allows local school districts to have autonomy over themselves. “I’d like the decision to be left to the local school board. Sometimes we’re apprehensive to move forward and I want to remove that apprehension,” he said. “I believe in freedom and the autonomy of the local school boards and parents deciding what’s best for the children.”


December 18, 2014

Board of Education reacts to oversight in school

State education officials have rediscovered a law more than 20 years old which affects the way millions of dollars in current and future fiscal year funds will be distributed to the state’s school districts.

“The department faces a challenge this year in regard to midyear adjustments,” said Superintendent Janet Barresi Thursday during a regular meeting of the State Board of Education.

The formula for midterm adjustments, she said, accounts for ad valorem tax revenues. In that factoring, the state law enacted in 1990 to take effect in 1992 mandates that agricultural and commercial personal property taxes should be capped at 11 percent. The statute also notes that the Oklahoma Tax Commission will provide that data to the Department of Education.

Since the law took effect, Barresi said the State Department of Education has failed to consider the cap and the Oklahoma Tax Commission has not provided the necessary data.


December 18, 2014

Legislators watch Equalization Board trigger tax

A large group of legislators watched Thursday as the Board of Equalization approved a finding that will result in a 0.25 percentage point reduction of the top individual income tax rate in 2016. The board also voted to approve a fiscal year 2016 revenue estimate that when combined with other revenue makes available nearly $300 million less for Gov. Mary Fallin to develop her executive budget than was appropriated for the current fiscal year.

“I did ask the legislators to come today,” Fallin said. “I think it’s very important that the legislators have all the information we have because they are here for a very short period of time, basically February through May, making some important decisions about how we allocate our resources in our state.”

The legislators were scheduled to receive an additional briefing about the estimating and budget process following the board’s meeting, Fallin said.