New law blocks local school board members from joining Oklahoma’s top education board

By: - October 31, 2023 5:29 am

A new state law prohibits members of local school boards from being appointed to the Oklahoma State Board of Education. The bill passed with overwhelming support from the Legislature. (Photo by Brent Fuchs/For Oklahoma Voice)

OKLAHOMA CITY — State lawmakers hope a new law that takes effect Wednesday will limit potential conflicts of interest between the state’s top school board and local districts. 

House Bill 2678 prohibits the appointment of a local school board member to the Oklahoma State Board of Education, which supervises the state’s public education system. The bill passed with overwhelming support before Gov. Kevin Stitt signed it into law this year.

The bill’s author, Rep. Rhonda Baker, R-Yukon, said lawmakers were concerned when they found out a state Board of Education member also served on a local school board. Baker leads the House Common Education Committee.

“If you’re also simultaneously serving on a local school board, to me and to many of those that voted on it, we felt that was a conflict of interest,” Baker said. “You can’t oversee two different boards, and especially with the state board having ultimate authority over a district.”

The state board takes crucial votes on school districts’ accreditation and funding. It develops regulations schools have to follow on myriad matters, and it can impose penalties on school districts accused of wrongdoing.

Former state board member Jennifer Monies, who served from 2019 to 2022, also sat on the governing board of John Rex Charter School in Oklahoma City. 

State law generally prohibits elected officials from holding two offices at once, but Monies, like all charter school board members, was appointed to her local seat. Former state board member Bob Ross also served on the John Rex board while sitting on the state Board of Education.

“I am proud of my past volunteer service on the State Board of Education and of being able to voluntarily serve on the board of the school where my kids attend,” Monies said. “We should be encouraging more Oklahomans to serve on school boards, not fewer.”

Current state board member Kendra Wesson resigned from a Norman charter school board a few days after Stitt chose her for state service in January.

Oklahoma State Board of Education members Kendra Wesson and Zachary Archer listen to a speaker during a meeting Thursday in Oklahoma City. Wesson and Archer resigned from local school board seats after Gov. Kevin Stitt chose them for the state board. (Photo by Nuria Martinez-Keel/Oklahoma Voice)

At the time the legislation passed, none of the state board members served on a local school board. But one recent appointee sat on the board of Hammon Public Schools until a few days before being appointed to a state Board of Education seat.

Zachary Archer said he resigned from the Hammon school board on Oct. 20. The governor formally appointed him to the state board three days later, records show.

“As a parent and a current local school board member, I take this appointment very seriously and look forward to working on behalf of all Oklahoma students,” Archer said in an Oct. 20 statement.

Baker said she was surprised the new rule wasn’t already in state law. Oklahomans willing to serve on local or state boards are vital to good governance, she said, but “you cannot do both.”

“Everybody has a part to play in education,” Baker said. “So, with the number of people that are willing to serve and willing to work on these boards, I’m sure that we can find those to be appointed to a state board position that are not currently serving at the local level.”



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Nuria Martinez-Keel
Nuria Martinez-Keel

Nuria Martinez-Keel covers education for Oklahoma Voice. She worked in newspapers for six years, more than four of which she spent at The Oklahoman covering education and courts. Nuria is an Oklahoma State University graduate.