By Joey McWilliams
BOKCHITO – The Rock Creek school board meeting for June was well-attended – as have been many recently. And its conclusion also marked the conclusion of the tenure of the school’s superintendent.
The board voted unanimously to accept a proposed settlement agreement in regard to an irrevocable resignation submitted by Superintendent Preston Burns.
As such, Burns will receive a buyout for the salary of the 2019-2020 school year. The discussion of this decision took place in executive session and that amount was not disclosed during the remainder of the school board meeting. However, according to OK.gov, the amount to be paid to the Rock Creek superintendent for the 2018-2019 school year was $118,001. (Note: This amount is fifth of eight superintendent salaries in Bryan County.)
Controversy has been at the forefront of conversation in the district throughout the year. Much of it derives from the perceived inaction of the superintendent in regard to incidents with the high school basketball coach.
The issue stems from an event in December 2018 in which it has been alleged Craig Andrus, the boys basketball coach, showed videos to his classes, including junior high classes, that were ‘vulgar, sexually explicit and degrading.’ Other allegations were also levied against Andrus in regard to inappropriate classroom behavior. When parents of the students and other parents looked to the administration to deal with this situation and others regarding the coach, they said they were not satisfied with the results.
Parents have also stated that Burns has not been readily available, or available at all, to address the issue and has not returned phone calls.
Those concerned with the issue have tried to address it in school board meetings for months. Ramon and Alyssa Anguiano and Elizabeth Thompson were placed on the agenda on the Jan. 28 board meeting. They were given five minutes to speak to the board regarding concerns that had grown and were continuing to grow.
At that time, the school board followed the rules stated in the notice it must post according to the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act: “The school board may vote to approve or disapprove, vote to table, adopt, reject, reaffirm, rescind or take no action on any agenda matter.” Andrus remained in the classroom and on the sidelines.
The Mustangs’ boys basketball team reached the Class 2A state semifinals and finished the season with a 26-4 record.
Andrus has an emergency teaching certificate, which is used to fill a teaching position when an appropriately certified person may not be available. The State Department of Education informed Andrus that it would be filing to seek revocation of the certificate, which it did in April. (This has since been dismissed, as the certification would expire at the end of the school year, and the revocation process could be lengthy.)
In the school board meeting in March, the school board (in a split vote) voted to rehire Andrus as a coach, but not as a teacher.
The issue as a whole has caused a major divide among people involved in the district, a district in which the athletic program receives much attention.
Lane Jackson, a parent of two Rock Creek students and former coach at the school, addressed the board at a meeting on May 28, saying that there is never a wrong time to do what is right, but at some point the members were going to have to say this is enough.
“We reached the point that the conduct of the employees of this school has caused 21 kids to move out in the last two weeks. There are fourth- and fifth-generation families that have shown you they have lost all faith in this school.
“What does it take? Some of you have been elected multiple times because the people in this community have faith in you. They did. And they’re trusting you to take care of their children, not to say that you can’t do anything. Yes, you can. It all stops with you five men right here.”
School board member Myron Wilson expressed his thoughts in that meeting saying that bad decisions had been made and that consequences were being felt.
“As a board member, I think this needs to end,” Wilson said. “The school is losing respect.
“And as long as there is, and this has been stated, that coaches should be allowed to play by different standards and different rules than the rest of the staff, that’s an issue that’s not going to fly. And I think that’s what we’ve gotten into here.”
The financial implications for the district for the upcoming school year are daunting. Not only is the district on the hook for Burns’ salary, but Rock Creek will also have to hire another superintendent – and pay this person.
But there is more. The perceived inaction of the superintendent, and by extension the school board, has come at a cost to the enrollment for the 2019-2020 school year. The number of students to have withdrawn is thought to be more than 30 now. At only 30 students, with the state of Oklahoma spending more $8,700 per student (according to numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics, published by the Tulsa World), the financial hit could be more than $261,000.
Add that to $118,000 for Burns and a number at least similar to $118,000 for the next superintendent and the district has been spotted at least a $497,000 financial hole out of which to dig, before July 1 even rolls around.
And the exodus from the district is not only in the form students, but also teachers and support staff.
The effect is being felt in other sports, as well. With the departure of the students, some to other districts within the county, the roster of the baseball has fallen to just four players and the upcoming season had to be canceled.
Jackson pleaded the cause for his son, a senior in the upcoming school year, who would be playing baseball in the fall. He said he had tried to find a way to transfer him, but couldn’t. And the only way for him to be able to play in the fall would be if the school board canceled the baseball program, which would allow him to play elsewhere through a hardship at his current school.
But he had said that really wasn’t what he wanted.
“I want you to do what is right.”