Importance of local school board races illustrated in Oklahoma City’s District 4

 On February 14, voters in District 4 of the Oklahoma City Public Schools will consider three candidates in the school board race. If no candidate receives a majority of votes cast, a runoff election will be held on April 10.

Low voter turnout is likely, although the race is getting some new attention due to the quality of the trio seeking the position, and interest in national and statewide education policy issues that are part of the discussion among them.

Despite customarily low participation in school board races in Oklahoma, local boards of education have considerable powers to set broad policy and influence personnel decisions in schools. Perhaps the most significant board authority is to hire and fire superintendents, and to negotiate their salaries.

The Oklahoma City hopefuls, in reverse alphabetical order, are Laura Massenat, Crystal Hodges and Patrick Gaines. They are seeking to replace Steve Shafer, the incumbent, who did not seek reelection. In District 3, incumbent Phil Horning was unopposed for another term.

CapitolBeat OK has interviewed all three candidates. Stories focused on each individually will be posted over the course of this week.

Massenat and her husband are residents of the Mesta Park historic neighborhood in Oklahoma City. Her oldest son was home-schooled for several years, and is now at Classen School of Advanced Arts. The other children attend Wilson Elementary.

Massenat leads EatWiseOKC, a group of concerned parents advocating for better nutrition in public school lunches.

Massenat is owner of Elementals Coffee Roasters on N. Hudson Avenue in MidTown Oklahoma City.

A veteran of the U.S. Navy, from which she was honorably discharged, Crystal Hodges holds a degree in elementary education.

 She and her husband live in the Mesta Park neighborhood of Oklahoma City. She is homeschooling her oldest child.

Patrick Gaines and his wife live in the Heritage Hills historic neighborhood in Oklahoma City. Their children attend Wilson Elementary.

Gaines is a past president of Bricktown Rotary Club, and has served in leadership positions for several MidTown and MidCity organizations.

He is also a member of the city Historic Preservation Commission.

Gaines is president of Gaines Government Services, specializing in lobbying and association management.

Taxpayer-funded public schools in the district include these elementary schools: Capitol Hill, Edgemere, Eugene Field, Gatewood, Hawthorne, Sequoyah and Wilson; Classen School of Advanced Studies and Emerson High School; and three charters: ASTEC, DOVE and Independence High.

CapitolBeatOK afforded each of the candidates an opportunity to answer, in writing, the same set of questions; and additionally met with Gaines and Massenat before preparing the forthcoming news stories.

The stories are being printed in the order in which answers were received (Massenat, Gaines, Hodges). A meeting with Hodges is also anticipated.

Questions submitted to each candidate are listed below. For the information of our readers, links to past CapitolBeatOK stories on these topics are provided. The questions:

•Tell my readers what you believe are the top three issues that now face the Oklahoma City Public School District?

•State Superintendent Janet Barresi has requested from the federal government a waiver for Oklahoma from No Child Left Behind requirements. Do you agree, disagree or do you have a mixed response?

•The amount of legal fees paid by public school districts is not information available for public inspection through the Oklahoma Department of Education. Is that information voters and citizens should be able to access?

•MAPS for Kids is in the final stages of infrastructure improvements for Oklahoma City Public Schools. What do you believe the next major reform effort should be?

•Do you support charter schools? What about broader forms of parental or student choice, including the special needs scholarships?

•Proposals have been made to move school board elections from February, when participation is always low, to November in order to allow for broader participation and a more representative outcome. What do you think?