Over 80 employees have left Oklahoma State Department of Education during Walters’ tenure, records show

By: - September 11, 2023 5:30 am

Records from the Oklahoma State Department of Education show 86 employees have left since Superintendent Ryan Walters was sworn into office in January. (Photo by Kyle Phillips/For Oklahoma Voice)

OKLAHOMA CITY — About 86 employees have left the Oklahoma State Department of Education since Ryan Walters took office as state superintendent in January, records show.

The agency has hired only 33 people in that timeframe, according to documents Oklahoma Voice received from an Open Records request. The data reflects all employee hires and departures from January through early August. 

It’s unclear how many departing employees left by choice or were fired. They represent a broad spectrum of positions, departments and seniority levels. 

“I would think that it has a direct impact on the type and amount of services you can provide to schools,” said Michelle Strain, a former employee. “I don’t know all the positions that have been vacated, but I can tell you that when we lost people in our department even before I left, for any reason, it meant a reduction in service.”

Strain was the executive director of prevention and intervention services. Before she left on May 5, she worked with employees focused on crisis counseling, suicide and bullying prevention, school climate, homeless student services and more.

The entire leadership team in the Office of Student Supports, which houses much of the agency’s mental and behavioral health services, left in a “mass exodus,” she said.

Some student support services were non-existent for a period of time as a result of staff departures, Strain said.

“Luckily for our schools, that happened over the summer, but there’s no institutional knowledge with the current staff there, other than maybe our administrative assistants and maybe with crossover from other departments,” she said.

Walters has said in prior months that his administration is focused on efficiency, employee accountability and saving taxpayer dollars. His spokesperson did not return a request for comment before deadline Friday.

Turnover between administrations is expected, but questions and complaints from the public, former employees and state leaders have persisted for months about the heavy loss of staff and whether it hampers the agency’s ability to carry out its daily operations

State lawmakers took notice of the agency’s turnover and questioned Walters about it during a May 1 hearing with a House budget committee.

During that hearing, Walters said his staff had nine vacancies out of 416 total positions. He said 37 employees had resigned, and seven more were fired by that date.

The agency eliminated 17 positions by May 1, which Walters said saved $1.3 million. 

The Department of Education didn’t respond by deadline with updated information of how many vacancies it filled and whether it cut more positions.

Since Walters reported the staffing figures in May, three more employees were fired and sued alleging wrongful termination.


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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.