With just more than a week before an important bond election for the Luther Public School District, a “Vote NO” postcard has arrived in many mailboxes, while an informal poll on social media showed support for the proposals.
The $24 million package would allow for the construction of new safe rooms for the elementary and middle school, a cafeteria, technology upgrades, a new basketball gym and some “facelifts” for district facilities. It will take about 13 years to pay off the bond debt, if it passes. The taxpayer burden would be about a ten percent increase in a property owner’s assessed value calculated by the county where one owns property. For example, if you pay $1,000 in property taxes, you would pay $1,100 if the bond passes. Some pay their assessment monthly or through their mortgage and others make one annual payment.
While school district officials say the proposed tax hike keeps Luther’s property tax rate below other school districts in Oklahoma County, some voters say the request is just too high and will be a burden. Some say there are too many projects in the proposal. Others say the projects are long overdue. Some are against taxes no matter the amount or the duration. Still others say the tax hike would be worth the higher property tax to improve facilities and safety for the district’s 850 students. Some parents with students at Luther Public Schools say they will vote no. Some voters who don’t have any children, grandchildren or connection to the district say they will vote yes for the good of the community. It’s democracy in action.
The mailer arrived in mailboxes the week of Christmas. It does not disclose who paid for printing and postage, nor who sent it. The Luther Register’s inquiries have not confirmed the senders’ identities. The mailer seems to have targeted Republicans in the school district, according to those who’ve received them.
The bond vote is seen as pivotal as it is the first bond request since a larger bond issue failed by a wide margin in 2015. Within weeks after that bond failure, a citizen’s petition with a list of allegations was accepted by the State Auditor and Inspector. The investigative audit was finally released in March of 2018. In 2016, the district went through a season of controversy and financial turmoil with program cuts, layoffs, loss of enrollment and resignations. See Luther Register archives for coverage of LPS.
While the current bond campaign has been fairly quiet, the opposition mailer made several claims. To help voters with information, The Luther Register asked Superintendent Barry Gunn who was named the district’s leader in March 2017, to respond to the those claims and clarify some information. The claims are listed and Gunn’s response follows.
There is no hidden motive with this bond. It is for the students of Luther Public Schools,” said Barry Gunn, Luther Superintendent.
From the “Vote No” mailer: The Luther School Board spent $79,137.53 from the Transportation Bond for expenditures not allowed by law and never put the money back.
RESPONSE FROM SUPERINTENDENT GUNN: “The State Auditor found that some of the transportation bond was spent on educationally appropriate items, but not directly related to transportation. It was not illegal and they had no recommendations or any corrective actions. The audit itself cost the district over $40,000. We are legally obligated to complete every project that we have said that we will do. I have sent you the full language that is on file (see photo below), it is a little different than the ballot because the ballot can only have 200 characters, so we are held by law to follow the entire language that is on file at the county clerks office and was posted in the Journal Record. We will absolutely do every project that is listed, and the law will see to it. This bond is only for the projects listed ant can’t be changed that would be against the law.”
From the Executive Summary of the audit.
(Page 2) The District expended $79,137.53 from bond funds for work or materials not allowed as a bond expenditure. The District also did not bid three construction projects as required by law, and encumbrances for 27 of the 109 vendors reviewed were not reflected as approved in the Board minutes. The proceeds of the bond issues were co-mingled into one bank account, blank pre-signed payment-requisition forms were on file in the District’s administration office, and some records pertaining to the expenditure of bond proceeds were not maintained by the District.
“Although these costs were appropriate District expenditures, they did not appear to be a legitimate use of bond proceeds,” from the audit.
From the “Vote No” mailer. The Board still owes over $7 million on the High School Bond series. The bond information on the school website is smoke and mirrors. It only shows two unpaid bonds of $980,000 each.
From the “Vote NO” mailer: The Board closed school in April 2018 to allow teachers to go out on strike and/or picket at the State Capitol for a tax increase, while continuing to collect their teacher salaries.
RESPONSE FROM SUPT. GUNN: “Yes. Teachers across the state walked out. Luther Public Schools supports its Teachers and always will.”
There are many articles and studies on the issue, including this article from the New York Times,
“It (Google) has enlisted teachers and administrators to promote Google’s products to other schools. It has directly reached out to educators to test its products — effectively bypassing senior district officials. And it has outmaneuvered Apple and Microsoft with a powerful combination of low-cost laptops, called Chromebooks, and free classroom apps.
“Today, more than half the nation’s primary- and secondary-school students — more than 30 million children — use Google education apps like Gmail and Docs, the company said. And Chromebooks, Google-powered laptops that initially struggled to find a purpose, are now a powerhouse in America’s schools. Today they account for more than half the mobile devices shipped to schools,” from the NYT article.
Election Day Nearing
The vote is January 8, 2019, just one day after students return from the holiday break. The election was scheduled at the direction of its bond advisor , Stephen H McDonald & Associates, who will be paid through bond funds for the duration of the projects, and approved by the School Board during a Special Meeting in October. Confirm your voter registration and find voting information here.
Barely a month after the bond election, school district voters will be asked to go to the polls again on February 12, 2019, for a school board election. Incumbent Sherri Anderson is seeking another five-year team and is being challenged by Justin Wood.