Studio 46 is a weekly podcast in Edmond, Oklahoma, moderated by Brian Bush of Oklahoma Christian University and published by The Edmond Sun newspaper. In the podcast’s most recent episode, on January 7, 2011, Brian hosted Kenny Goza. Goza was one of five Republican candidates vying for the vacated Oklahoma state senate seat of newly elected Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb. According to the unofficial, unverified election results published by the Oklahoma Election Board today, Goza did NOT win the primary. The themes and focus of his election campaign disclosed in the January 7th Studio 46 podcast are eye opening, however, and may be on the minds of other Oklahoma politicians as well as voters. Consider these quotations from the podcast.
In response to the question, “What would your top two priorities be if you are elected to the State Senate?” Goza stated at 2:34 of the podcast:
I’ve got two lists out there right now, one is a published list that shows the top 250 highest paid state employees which cost the state taxpayers $96 million dollars. That’s one priority. I want to wean that list out, I want to get rid of some of these top-heavy state employees, drawing a paycheck, getting all the leave, working their 40 hours, not like the rest of us in the private sector working 60, 70, or 80 hours per week to run our small businesses. The second list I just created because I heard a lot of flak about the state superintendents and what they make. I went back three days ago and put the list together, it turns out of the 527 (I believe there is 527, give or take a few if you include the charter schools) costs us $50 million dollars. 199 of those school districts, the superintendent makes $100,000 plus a year. Within that, 194 of those districts have less than 350 students. It’s not fair to pay those kind of wages to a state employee with those little responsibilities. We need to consolidate those schools, we need to eliminate some of the chiefs, and make those schools more efficient. Those are my two priorities. I want to cut government. Wherever I can cut it, if I can find it, I’ll do the research, and we’re going to get rid of it.
Next, at 4:05 of the podcast, Kenny Goza went on to elaborate further on the specifics of what his school consolidation plan in Oklahoma would look like:
Well, I just presented the list to the H&H Gun Club downtown, and the average citizens that go there were infuriated that we have so many schools, 194 of them, that have less than 350 kids. We don’t have to necessarily consolidate the schools themselves, but the responsibility. Just like we have DAs that cover two or three counties, just like we have judges that cover five to seven counties, why can’t we have a superintendent who makes sometimes more than these judges and these district attorneys, cover the same geographic region? They don’t have to have their own office with their own staff and be insulated. They need to have more responsibility. That is my plan. Create these smaller rural [school] districts, put them all under one superintendent, maybe it’s five school districts, maybe it’s six, I don’t know where the cutoff point is going to be. But that will eliminate right there a $100,000 job if we start doing that.
If he had won the primary and gone on to be elected to our state Senate, Goza not only wanted to eliminate positions of rural Oklahoma school superintendents, he also wanted to eliminate costly positions held by physicians in the OU Health Science Center. At 5:53 of the podcast he stated:
Well the list [of the highest paid Oklahoma state employees] actually contains a lot of physicians at the OU Health Science Center. There are also a bunch of higher ed jobs, some of them are politicians who have gone out of the public realm in the state senate or state house of representatives, and have gone into paid positions in higher ed. I’d like to identify what their actual job description is, and see about eliminating them. I don’t think, when we start crying for new dollars for higher ed, and there has already been a proposal that they want more money, that it needs to go to the admin side of it. It needs to go to the classrooms, both in higher ed and into primary education. So I’m going to identify those areas, and it’s going to be tough. It’s a tough battle. I’m not saying it’s easy. But we gotta make $460 million dollars, [that] is what our shortfall is right now, we’ve gotta make these tough choices.
In response to the question, “Who specifically is on this list of state employees you want to cut?” Goza replied the list is on his website. (That site, kennygoza.us, is listed on BallotPedia but is currently offline.) He stated at 7:03 of the podcast:
Some are doctors that are fairly new, make about $250,000 to $300,000. Some make upwards of the neighborhood of $700,000 a year. Having two doctors that live in my neighborhood, one is in private practice and works 70 to 80 hours a week like I do. The other one actually lives across the street from me, and I hope he doesn’t hear this podcast. He’s a heart surgeon out at the OU Health Science Center and unfortunately he’s always home. And so that makes me wonder why we pay we pay this kind of money to state employees who are not actually on the job doing the work they are paid to do.
Wow. Where do I begin to respond to this? My first thought is of torches and pitchforks, except the evil ogre being pursued by the angry townspeople isn’t Shrek, it’s rural school superintendents and heart surgeons working at the university health science center. What a strange puzzle this is.
Here’s my attempt at some cogent responses.
GOZA LOST THIS ELECTION, BUT HIS IDEAS WILL LIKELY PERSIST
As previously mentioned, unofficial election results indicate Goza garnered just 320 votes in the district 47 election, or 6.34% of the total. He didn’t win. His ideas, however, are likely to persist on the Oklahoma political landscape. I definitely agree there are situations in our schools where too much money is being spent on administrative costs. The best way to address this is NOT to demonize small, rural school superintendents, however. The way to address this is to look at administrative costs in schools the same way we do in the world of other nonprofit organizations. As a percentage of total costs, how much is being spent on administration? Some rural schools should consolidate and a number of schools HAVE consolidated voluntarily in the past five years. This pattern is going to continue. The strategy of demonizing small school superintendents may have great appeal at the H&H Gun Club in Oklahoma City, but it’s a poorly reasoned argument which also flies in the face of local school control. If a local school district, which is funded primarily by local property taxes, wants to pay and can afford to pay their school superintendent more than $100,000 per year, they should. We need to remember: We live in the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, not in the Soviet Union or in China. Having local control over our schools has been a cornerstone of our nation for decades, and it should remain. The state legislature certainly has a strong influence on school budgets, but the focus of state education policy should not be “cutting government wherever we can.” There are very good reasons for having government, government jobs, public schools, and taxes. Our democracy depends on an educated electorate, and government can and should do things which private businesses won’t and can’t. Those ideas were completely missing from the campaign priorities Goza articulated in this January 7th podcast, and I’m willing to bet his voice will not be the last we’ll hear in 2011 Oklahoma politics attempting to win public support for the demonization of rural school leaders.
HEART SURGEONS ACTUALLY DESERVE TO GET PAID A LOT OF MONEY
It is really weird to hear a politician like Goza present himself as an ultra-conservative Republican, favoring individual rights and family values, and then hear him declare (in a fashion sure to make Karl Marx fans grin broadly) that heart surgeons who spend too much time at home should be fired from their jobs for not working. Goza’s Edmond Chamber of Commerce website includes the following quotation from him:
I believe we must stand strong against illegal immigration. I support gun rights, lower taxes, strengthening families, strong work ethic, smaller government, and more money in the classroom so our children can get the education they deserve.
Where does “Take down physicians and former politicians now in higher education who make hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, because they don’t work 70 hours a week to make ends meet like I do?” fit into the above quotation? It doesn’t. I have some sincere cognitive dissonance listening to this contradictory rhetoric, and I wonder if I’m the only one? Brian Bush didn’t question Goza about this in their January 7th interview.
OKLAHOMA EDUCATIONAL POLICY NEEDS A NEW VISION AND DIRECTION
From an educational standpoint, perhaps my biggest takeaway from this podcast segment is that we need a new vision and direction for educational policy in our state. Oklahoma voters just elected a new state superintendent, Janet Barresi, who incidentally is on Twitter. (@janetbarresi) After twenty years of leadership by Sandy Garrett, the Oklahoma State Department of Education is certain to see some change under Barresi. She linked to four recent news articles from outlets around the state highlighting her planned reforms. Some of what I’ve read and heard about Janet’s reforms sounds great, but I’m very concerned we have not broken step with the destructive NCLB / RTTT agenda which has (among many other bad things) perpetuated the lie that everything which matters in education can be measured on a bubblesheet. We need a vision for digital literacy and blended learning in Oklahoma education, and a focus on the vital importance of strong instructional leaders both in the classroom and in our districts’ central offices. Like Angus King in Maine, we need to advocate for a non-partisan agenda of 1 to 1 digital learning in Oklahoma, focusing on higher order thinking skills and project based learning. The Arne Duncan and Bill Gates school refom agenda does not support this, but our Oklahoma education leaders should. The educational policies of most Oklahoma politicians today are bereft of vision for learning in the twenty-first century. That needs to change, and I sense the need for that change even more strongly after listening to Kenny Goza’s campaign priorities in this recent Studio 46 podcast.
Kudos to Brian Bush of OC and The Edmond Sun for publishing this podcast and providing Edmond voters (like me) with an opportunity to get a much more in-depth look into the ideas of our local candidates. It’s a sobering look, but a welcome look none-the-less because it is NOT something we can get on the television or in a print newspaper. If you’re interested in subscribing to the Studio 46 weekly podcast, the RSS / web feed is available on their Podbean website.
The newly updated website of the Oklahoma State Department of Education includes links to “Follow the State Superintendent” on Facebook and Twitter. A new day has dawned. Hopefully it will become the bright sunrise we need in our Oklahoma schools and communities.
A Final Note: The H&H Gun Range has an iOS app for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. I wonder if they will publish a podcast of Kenny Goza’s full remarks at their recent club meeting which he referenced in the January 7th Studio 46 podcast? I’m sure it would be interesting to analyze a transcription of those remarks as well.
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