Funding at heart of race for Okla. superintendent

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Associated Press

Posted on July 21, 2010 at 11:01 PM

YUKON, Okla. (AP) — Funding cuts that have forced school districts to cut hundreds of teaching jobs across the state has emerged as the primary issue in the 2010 race to replace longtime state schools chief Sandy Garrett.

"The biggest downfall in Oklahoma school systems now is just money," said Ron Snow, 41, who owns a Yukon jewelry store. "I don't think they have enough money right now. I think the school systems are hurting, just like anybody else."

The Oklahoma primary election is Tuesday. Two Democrats, two Republicans and an independent filed to replace Garrett, who is stepping down after two decades as the state superintendent of public instruction. Garrett has said she will not endorse anyone.

State Sen. Susan Paddack of Ada and Jerry Combrink, a retired superintendent of the Blue and Boswell school districts in southeastern Oklahoma, are vying for the Democratic nomination. Charter-school advocate Janet Barresi of Norman will face Brian Kelly of Edmond, a former teacher and football coach, for the Republican nomination. Richard Cooper joins the race in November.

Barresi said she would like to apply charter-school principles to public schools and hopes to tell legislators, "If the money is not there, at least give us the freedom to innovate and be creative." She opposes forced school consolidation and says districts can become more efficient by reducing administrative paperwork and engaging in cooperative purchasing and training in applying for grants.

Kelly said salaries must be increased so Oklahoma does not lose teachers to other states. He also is worried schools "are receiving pennies on the dollar" from state lottery revenues. He said administrative consolidation of districts could work "on a case-by-case basis" but should be a district decision.

Paddack, a former chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, once was a junior high science teacher. She said the current budget crunch gives the state a chance to look at every education program "and make choices about what your priorities are." She wants to establish partnerships among schools and local groups and businesses and encourage volunteerism.

Combrink thinks the $2.38 billion budgeted for common education this fiscal year isn't enough and should be increased to avoid teacher layoffs. He also wants to see small districts survive despite financial woes, or, if they must, voluntarily consolidate. He'd like to see the state's charter school law expanded to allow for such schools in districts of any size.

Another crowded statewide race is the one to succeed Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who is leaving the office after 16 years to run for governor. The two Republicans seeking to replace him, Ryan Leonard and Scott Pruitt, both tout conservative credentials and have promised to add Oklahoma to the list of states suing to overturn a new federal health care law. Edmondson has opted against suing.

The winner faces Democrat Jim Priest in November.

The race for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor drew five Republicans, real estate investor Bernie Adler of Oklahoma City, Bill Crozier of Hinton, state Sen. Todd Lamb of Edmond, Paul Nosak of Owasso, and state Rep. John Wright of Broken Arrow.

State Sen. Kenneth Corn of Poteau was the only Democrat to file for the lieutenant governor's post, which is being vacated by Jari Askins, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor. The GOP winner and Corn face independent Richard Prawdzienski of Edmond in November.

Former state Sen. Owen Laughlin of Woodward will face state Rep. Ken Miller of Edmond in the Republican race for treasurer. Laughlin, who now lives in Edmond, served 12 years in the Senate, ending in 2008, and now is a self-employed real estate manager and investor while Miller, first elected in 2004, is an economics professor at Oklahoma Christian University.

The winner will face Democrat Stephen Covert of Midwest City in November. Incumbent Scott Meacham, a Democrat, is not seeking re-election.

Former Oklahoma Republican Party chairman Gary Jones will make a third run for state auditor and inspector and will go up against David Hanigar of Edmond, a longtime employee of the state auditor's office, in the primary. Jones lost in the general election to Democrat Jeff McMahan in 2002 and 2006. McMahan left office in 2008 after being convicted of accepting bribes and later was sentenced to prison. Democrat incumbent Steve Burrage is running unopposed for his party's nomination.

Republicans Mark Costello of Edmond and Jason Reese of Oklahoma City are seeking the party's nomination for labor commissioner to face incumbent Democrat Lloyd Fields in November. Three GOP candidates have filed for insurance commissioner — John Doak of Tulsa, Mark Croucher of Jenks and John P. Crawford of Oklahoma City — with the winner to face incumbent Democrat Kim Holland.

Incumbent Corporation Commissioner Dana Murphy of Edmond will face challenger Tod Yeager of Del City in the GOP primary. No Democrats filed for the post, which Murphy won in 2008, ousting Democrat Jim Roth. Murphy is seeking a full six-year term on the commission, which regulates utilities and the oil and gas industry.

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