‘Problematic’: OK Secretary of Education resigns, citing a lack of leadership and fiscal transparency

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) — As first reported by Oklahoma Voice, the most recent Oklahoma Secretary of Education says she resigned after three months because of a lack of leadership and fiscal transparency.

Katherine Curry was appointed by the Governor as the state’s Secretary of Education in April.

She was responsible for approving all expenses over $25,000 from the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE).

“Katherine brings a wealth of experience to oversee the many different areas of education across the state, including higher education and career tech. I look forward to her leadership and service as we work towards making Oklahoma a Top Ten state in education,” said Governor Stitt.

Representative Mark McBride (R-Moore) said he had only met Curry a handful of times, but described her as professional.

“We may not have agreed on everything, but at least I could sit down and have a conversation with her on all things education related,” stated Rep. McBride.

However, Curry resigned three months into the job.

“It was an honor to be asked by Governor Stitt to serve Oklahoma. I valued my time working alongside him and the rest of his cabinet, but the complexity and political environment have led me to the conclusion that I can better serve Oklahoma’s students and future teachers by dedicating my time and energy to the classroom. I thank Governor Stitt for this honor and I trust that he will continue to fight for what’s best for students across Oklahoma,” said Curry.

Her last day was July 25.

Curry recently spoke with Oklahoma Voice about her resignation.

News 4 requested an interview with her, but she declined saying, “I feel like I need to stop interviews at this point. I don’t have much to add.”

She told Oklahoma Voice that OSDE only ever provided records of high-dollar expenses that required her signature but was left hanging when she asked for other documents, including a monthly fiscal report and the agency’s annual budget.

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“When you’re responsible for something, you want to know details,” Curry told the Oklahoma Voice. “That’s all I can say. I just needed information. I never received information.”

News 4 has reached out to the OSDE Director of Communications, Dan Isett. He told KFOR in a late afternoon statement when Walters took office, there appeared to be no financial oversight.

“Consequently, there was simply no data available at the time to answer many of Secretary Curry’s questions,” stated Isett.

He said an audit of OSDE by outside experts was launched by Walters within weeks of being sworn in.

“Unfortunately, she resigned before that audit’s completion, but we do have some preliminary information which shows that the previous administration had a lack of procedures and policy related to budget, revisions, and other issues. Had Secretary Curry remained in office, she could have been part of the solution along with Superintendent Walters, but she wasn’t in place long enough to see the job through,” said Isett.

Details of the audit were not provided to News 4. An opens records request for that information has been filed.

“I’m not surprised Walters didn’t hand over information, but I am surprised and disappointed that Governor Stitt didn’t stand up for his own appointee and mandate that Walters be transparent because the people of Oklahoma deserve answers,” said Representative Mickey Dollens (D-OKC).

Curry told the Oklahoma Voice she felt compelled to review the agency’s financial history after a scathing state audit alleged now-State Superintendent Ryan Walters mismanaged millions of dollars.

Walters was the Secretary of Education prior to Curry.

Curry tried contacting Walters several times for a follow up conversation, but as Oklahoma Voice reveals, she was not able to get a hold of him.

Although Curry originally stated her resignation was due to the “complexity and political environment,” she told the Oklahoma Voice it was “100%” due to the lack of financial records.

“The last time I heard from her, she said, ‘Being in charge of the state’s largest agency, it’s important to have information in order to do a good job and if I don’t have that information, essentially, what’s the point?’ And so she was put in an impossible situation that should have never happened in the first place. It’s all because of a lack of communication and a lack of transparency by State Superintendent Ryan Walters,” explained Representative Mickey Dollens (D-OKC).

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Governor Kevin Stitt has yet to fill Curry’s position as the Secretary of Education. The position has been vacant for just over three months.

Another prominent education position has recently become vacant: OSDE Program Manager for Grant Development and Compliance.

Pamela Smith-Gordon resigned in late-October citing similar issues within OSDE.

Smith Gordon claims there was a lack of access to essential platforms, a refusal of printer for the grant office, delays in approvals and signatures, and a lack of communication from Walters.

“If your physical presence is not required for leadership, then the question arises as to why the position exists with a salary attached to it,” wrote Smith-Gordon. “While desperately wanting to support you, the lack of leadership and availability within our own [State Department of Education] is impossible to ignore.”

She also said she would have preferred to address her concerns privately, but was told not to contact Walters again.

“This is the only format I had available. I will continue to keep the OSDE, Oklahoma schools and students in my thoughts and prayers,” she ended her resignation with.

“All I want is transparency. I just want to know what’s going on. I don’t know what with Kathy and Pamela, both professional people, I find it problematic they have come forward within [the last] ten days and said there is a transparency problem, that there’s a lack of leadership and things like that. Hopefully we can do better,” stated Rep. McBride.

Both Rep. McBride and Rep. Dollens told KFOR there is also a lack of transparency between OSDE and legislators.

“We don’t have full transparency. I have had some of my questions answered, not all. What’s wrong with just turning over and telling us what’s going on? We want to continue moving education forward in Oklahoma,” stated Rep. McBride.

“Transparency, truth, and accountability should not be a partisan issue. I’ve got Republican colleagues who are just as concerned as the House Democrats when it comes to the practices that Ryan Walters or the lack thereof he has demonstrated when it comes to giving forthright answers, disclosing financial information required, meeting the requirements of the Open Records Act,” said Rep. Dollens. “It’s the future of the state, and it’s a taxpayer issue. We need to have the data. We have to have the information, and then we need someone in there to do the job.”

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