Via Woodward News
On Tuesday one man who has an eye toward leading the state made a campaign stop in Woodward and offered an address at the Pioneer Room.
Republican Kevin Stiff is a Tulsa businessman making his first run for governor.
A successful entrepreneur, Stitt began his company Gateway Mortgage Group with $1,000 and a computer. Today, Gateway employs over 1,100 people, has 145 offices nationwide, and is licensed in 40 states, serving 100,000 customers.
Stitt’s strategy is to apply a five-pronged approach to lead the state out of its economic slump and to more efficient spending and better overall outcomes. And for a state that is admittedly lagging behind in many quality of life issues as well as experiencing a crisis in some basic services, such as the health department and education, Oklahomans are listening for strategies they think might work.
Stitt intends to see teachers reach regional averages in their pay and he wants to make sure the money spent on education in the state is making it to the classroom.
That focus on education spending and more reform drew a question from Woodward Superintendent Kyle Reynolds.
“Couple of things; the very first word, “reform”…We have done tremendous reform in Oklahoma in recent years,” Reynolds said. “The teacher-leader effectiveness model has been dramatically reshaped in the last six years to be much more effective than how we ever did teacher evaluations in the past. The new academic state standards are far more rigorous than they have ever been. The new accountability system…that’s exciting to see that we are actually measuring things where schools can actually use that information to do better. So reform is on the way.”
But Reynolds said, effectively, after all of this work and several years of legislative promises, where’s the “beef.”
“I am a fan of Joy Hofmeister and she says, ‘We performed now show us some money,” he said.
Reynolds also asked where else his district could cut to make sure even more money makes it to the classroom.
“I guess I do have a question because on the one hand our administrative costs in Woodward are right in line with the state averages – under 4 percent. And the number that gets tossed around for instructional dollars is like 60 percent. And so in that gap, quite frankly, where do we need to make adjustments?”
Reynolds pointed to the 200,000 square feet of building space to the schools that was added as a result of the bond issue here, while the district still reduced custodial staffing.
“We are as lean as we can run on secretaries, bus drivers, cooks. We’ve reduced our school resource officers. In fact, we have reduced instructional staff too. So we are unsure of where else to cut.”
Stitt said he believes the answer could be revenue based but it still could be spending related. One thing he is definite about – he wants to study the six states that surround Oklahoma and bring the per pupil spending and teacher pay in line with the other neighboring states.
“We’ve got to make it a priority and look at the different reforms that other people are doing and I have to get guys like you on the team that study this and know how to do it and hire the best and the brightest and deliver on that,” Stitt said to Reynolds. “I don’t have all the answers on the education column, but I do know we need to hit the average on what the states around us spend.”
He said he met with Hofmeister twice regarding the current condition of education in Oklahoma.
“A lot of times you hear we have a ‘weak governor system’ because we have 11 election other officials,” Stitt said. “In other states, when the governor gets elected, he appoints or she appoints the superintendent of schools. In our state, it is another elected official. So it just takes more of a leadership role to work with Joy and make sure we find out what she needs and help her deliver that. And then go sell that to the legislature.”
Stitt also favors more control over board members who, in many cases, hire some agency heads. Stitt sees accountability as a number one priority for the leader of the state.
“I still think we have to get in and reform the budget and get a better line on just who is running the agencies,” he said. He said under his efficiency program, there may be some people at the state level losing their jobs.
Being a business leader, Stitt is keen to use his pragmatic efficiency focused approach to prioritize economic prosperity by promoting economic development and investment by creating incentive programs and reasons for Oklahoma children educated here to remain here.
Part of that vision is giving Oklahoma born children a reason to want to come back to a functioning and prosperous state.
To that end he wants to improve state infrastructure with an eye toward better management and studying the best practices realized by other successful states as well as applying a software program he is researching that can provide a matrix that would identify where efficiencies are falling down in all agencies.
“I want top 10 roads and bridges in our state,” he said.
He pointed to simple and very small changes that could be made in how, for instance, a bridge is topped with concrete in Oklahoma.
“The bridges in Texas are costing 30 percent less than bridges in Oklahoma,” he said. “I said, ‘Well, why is that?’ (It’s because)They (Texas engineers) allow 4 inches of precast concrete to be delivered on site, versus here, we make you pour all 8 inches on site. And the point is, why? It’s just that we have never addressed that.”
He said that approach to agency efficiency is key to saving not only the government money but residents of the state.
“Again, I want to look at what do other states around us do and how are they running their different departments,” he said. “You know, I want a single sign on where I can buy my fishing license and I can pay my property tax and I can get my car tag. other states are doing these things. We cannot do the same thing since 1907…”