Aurora Lora, superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools, resigned Tuesday, compounding the instability at the helm of the state’s largest school district.
Oklahoma City Public Schools has had 11 superintendents since 2000. Lora took the top job in 2016 after a stint as assistant superintendent under Rob Neu.
She’s only midway through her three-year contract — a contract that specifically stated how critical stability would be to improving student achievement and district finances. It included a $10,000 bonus if she reached her two-year anniversary, which is five months out.
The school board was expected to discuss her employment status at a special board meeting Tuesday night.
Questions abound, but here are five things to know about Lora’s resignation.
Urban school superintendents last an average of 3.18 years in the role, according to the Council of the Great City Schools’ 2014 report, “Urban School Superintendents: Characteristics, Tenure, and Salary”.
The last Oklahoma City superintendent to outlast the average was Karl Springer, who was superintendent for five years. Neu, the district’s superintendent from July 2014 to April 2016, was highly criticized for frequent absences and never moving his family to Oklahoma City from the Seattle area.
When Lora stepped into the role, she vowed to be different. She bought a house in Oklahoma City. The board approved her promotion, 6-0, with then board Chairman Lynne Hardin saying, “The stability will be so beneficial … It’s been a rocky ride recently, and we are looking forward to some smooth sailing.”
The district’s chief of staff, Rebecca Kaye, said in a recent interview with Oklahoma Watch that the district was committed to stopping the “revolving door of superintendents.” After Lora’s resignation, the board will have to begin a new search for the district’s leader. Kaye is stepping in as interim superintendent.
In her resignation letter, Lora highlighted some of the district’s accomplishments during her tenure. They included passing a $180 million bond for facilities upgrades, new school buses and technology; receiving approval to provide free meals to all students under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Community Eligibility Provision”; and decreasing overall student suspensions by 30 percent and long-term suspensions by 81 percent since 2014-15.
Budget woes hit the district particularly hard. In Lora’s first month, she cut $30 million in district spending after the state declared a revenue failure. A total of 400 positions were eliminated, including 200 teachers.
Last spring, Lora proposed a consolidation plan that would have shuttered several schools. Facing public outcry, she put the plan on the back burner, keeping the schools open through this school year. Student test scores were exceptionally poor, falling as expected due to due to increased statewide standards.
Tensions rose under an arrangement in which district administration, including Lora, moved into Northeast Academy. Students protested, then principal Sue Starr was placed on leave.
Last week, Lora apologized for a since-deleted, late-night Facebook vent. “I had a really hard day today. When you have 8 bosses, there is always at least one that wants to make you feel worthless and who wants to make sure that you bring no value to this world,” the post read, according to The Oklahoman.
A quarter of the district’s teachers turn over each year, and a significant number of teachers are emergency certified. Closing schools is still a possibility, and the district has been analyzing its long-term facilities usage. About a third of the district’s classrooms are empty, costing the district millions of dollars to heat and cool.
A board election on Feb. 13 will bring one or two new members to the board. Three seats are up for grabs, but current board member Mark Mann ran unopposed and will be automatically elected. The district’s student population decreased the past three years, a trend likely to continue.
Lora has been seeking help to improve the district’s culture and, along with Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers President Ed Allen, has been in talks with Kotter International, a management consulting firm. Some board members, including Chairman Paula Lewis, were supportive of the effort despite a potential price tag of more than $2 million, reported The Oklahoman.
“There is a lot of work still to be done in this district,” Lora wrote in her resignation letter, “but there is an amazing team of dedicated teachers, principals, support staff, central office administrators, and senior leadership team.”