Gates Foundation Turns Down Tulsa Public Schools

Tuesday, August 18th 2009, 2:20 pm
By: News On 6

By Ashli Sims, The News On 6

TULSA, OK - They are disappointed, but determined.  That's the latest from Tulsa school leaders now that they're out of the running for a multi-year, multi-million dollar grant. 

Tulsa Public Schools was competing for a $55 million grant from the founder of Microsoft.  But, school leaders tell The News On 6 that all is not lost.

8/6/2009 Related story: TPS And Other Proposals To The Gates Foundation

While they're down, the superintendent says the district is definitely not out and after three rounds of presentations, a revolutionary plan, and weeks of mounting anticipation, the leader of Tulsa Public Schools got the call he didn't want to take.

"I was deeply, deeply disappointed, Ashli, because I truly believe we had as good a presentation as anybody," said TPS Superintendent Dr. Keith Ballard.

TPS did beat out nearly 15,000 school districts across the country to make it into the top 10 for a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant.  It just didn't make the final cut for the top five.

"When you're top 10 in the United States of America, the competition is stiff," said TPS Superintendent Dr. Keith Ballard.

The Gates Foundation did invest about $1 million for a consultant for TPS.  That process revealed that only 7% of the district's graduates are truly college-ready.  And, that's what prompted TPS's 60-page plan to revolutionize how it would recruit, hire, train, evaluate, pay, and fire its teachers.

"I think it could have been a really great thing for our state to see this all happen," said Denzel Kesterson with the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association.

Kesterson was involved in the process from day one.  He's concerned parts of the plan, like performance-based bonuses for teachers will now be shelved without Gates' deep pockets.

"I believe some of it can't happen. I don't see how the salary change can happen," said Denzel Kesterson with the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association.

But, Dr. Ballard insists he's committed to the plan to put an effective teacher in every single Tulsa classroom.

"This is transformational. And, there are a lot of really good things in there. And, I will tell you that we intend to carry this forward. I've said that all along we continue to carry this forward," said TPS Superintendent Dr. Keith Ballard.

Dr. Ballard said he plans to shop the proposal around to other foundations, which might support the district's efforts.  He also mentioned that the Gates Foundation is going to partner with TPS on a smaller scale.  Gates is going to help TPS update its human resources department.