PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The school board in Tulsa, Okla. voted Wednesday to approve a three-year contract for Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, who will become that city’s superintendent of schools July 1.
The board voted 6-0 to award Gist a three-year deal with a base salary of $235,000 plus other incentives that include a $25,000 moving allowance, an annual performance bonus of up to $25,000 and an $18,000 expense account, according to a report in the Tulsa World. All told, Gist could earn $855,000 over the life of her deal.
In a text message Thursday, Gist confirmed the board voted to approve her agreement.
Gist, who attended Tulsa public schools for kindergarten through 12th grade before earning her undergraduate degree from the University of Oklahoma, will replace retiring Superintendent Keith Ballard.
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Gist has been Rhode Island’s education commissioner since 2009, but she announced in February she planned to accept the position in her hometown. In the final year of her Rhode Island deal, she is earning a base salary of $197,676. Her contract in the state ends June 30.
In March, the Tulsa School Board voted to approve Gist for a $775-a-day consulting contract until she begins her new job in July. She has said she will use personal and vacation days to consult in Tulsa, but has refused to release the number of days she has accrued in Rhode Island.
Tulsa Public Schools has roughly 40,000 students, 77% of whom are eligible for free or reduced lunch, according the department’s website. The city’s school budget for the current school year is $556 million. By comparison, Providence has about 24,000 students, 87% of whom are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Providence’s school budget is $345 million. Both districts have majority-minority enrollments.
Gist, who holds master’s degrees from the University of South Florida and Harvard as well as a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, came to Rhode Island in 2009 after serving as the state superintendent of education in Washington, D.C.
Within a year of coming Rhode Island, Gist was recognized by Time magazine as one of the “100 most influential people in the world” for her work to overhaul the teacher evaluation system. She earned praise from education reformers for lobbying the General Assembly to lift the state cap on charter schools and helping Rhode Island become one of the final states in the country to implement a school funding formula.
At the same, Gist has drawn the ire of Rhode Island’s teachers’ unions, who have opposed most of her signature initiatives and blamed her for low teacher morale. In 2013, shortly before she was given a two-year contract extension, the unions released a poll that showed 85% of teachers did not want her to remain in the job.
Last year, state lawmakers overwhelmingly approved legislation to scale back the frequency of teacher evaluations for most teachers and to delay the use of standardized testing as part of the state’s high school graduation requirements. Gist opposed both measures, saying she was concerned “we’ve lost our sense of urgency” when it comes to improving schools.Dan McGowan ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan