EducationUncategorized

Luther School Bond Campaign Heats Up

Election January 8

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.

An informal social media poll drew 199 votes with 74% voting yes for the proposed tax increase.

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.

A mailer targeting some LPS voters urges a no vote.
Claims made on the mailer. The sender of the mailer chose not to disclose their identity.

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.”

RELATED: Read the story about the audit release here.

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.
RESPONSE FROM SUPT. GUNN: “We do still owe several more years for the HS. If this bond passes they will become basically one and they will both come off of the tax rolls in 2031 which is 12 years from now. It is stretched out in order to allow us to do several much needed projects at every site, for every student, while keeping the tax impact at 9.93%.  I have been using 10% to be conservative. The only tax increase is for the new projects. Property taxes will increase 10% and stay at that level for the next 12 years. They will not increase every year, just once for 12 years.”
 

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.”

RELATED STORY ON TEACHER PAY RAISES.  
From the Mailer: The Board wants to use bond money to buy Google “big brother” Tablets for every student. Do you trust the liberals in California’s silicone [sic] valley to educate your children and use data mining to create profiles on every student for targeted adverting and subliminal messaging? 
RESPONSE FROM SUPT GUNN: “The technology piece includes tablets, shatter proof cases, charging/secure carts, as well as money to upgrade our network to handle the usage and speed. These will stay at school and not go home. They will not replace textbooks, but be used as another learning tool. There is also money set aside to train teachers to use the new technology. We currently use technology and have filters and safeguards in place to protect our students.”

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. 

Here’s another article about Chromebooks.
The technology piece of the bond issue prompted a wild discussion on a Facebook post. School Board Member Tony Rumpl said, “For those claiming studies show no benefit to integrating technology in early education, here is a study from Stanford stating the opposite. Please do you own research and come to your own conclusions,” and he linked to a Stanford Graduate School of Education 2014 study that emphasizes outcomes for for at-risk low income students, particularly in high school.
RELATED: BOND ANNOUNCEMENT
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. 

Bond advisor, Stephen McDonald of Norman, will earn more than a quarter of a million dollars on financial advisory fees over the course of the bond, if it passes.

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. 

Scroll Through a Slideshow of Several Bond Related Images
Media Center/Safe Room, LES

Tags

dawnshelton

Every town needs news. The Luther Register is part of a growing movement of local, independent, online news that shines an informative light in our communities. Readers can support the work through one-time or monthly donations, advertising to directly reach an audience, sponsorships and also through participating in our events, such as the annual Luther Pecan Festival held in November. #lutherlocal #localnews

Related Articles

13 Comments

  1. Just because a school district purchases an item, does not make it educational. If by “not illegal”, Mr. Gunn means there will be no action by the District Attorney, he is correct, but that does not make it “not illegal”. Misappropriation of bond funds is at worst, illegal, and at least, unethical. That is not the district’s money, as was explained to me by the DA. It is the people’s money and the trust they placed in the District to use the funds as they were told they were allowed to do was broken by the purchase of unauthorized items. And if these items are “educational” as Mr. Gunn states, then so is my barn and linen closet. If the district has the money that Steve Broudy says they have, then put the money back in the sinking fund and you can go a long way in good will and quieting the person that sent the mailer. Because as poorly worded as the mailer is, it is accurate in their claim of the audit’s finding.

    1. It is also important to note the the State audit covered a period of time I which the misappropriation occurred during the the oversight of a Superintendent and I believe three Board members who are no longer with us. Context matters.

      1. Yes – However, the Board is a continuation, as members come and go, it is still the responsibility of the Board to correct past mistakes and make plans for the future. You cannot just dismiss findings as obsolete because you were not personally responsible. As a Board member, you took responsibility when you were elected to the Board.

  2. Thank you also for putting in 2 sides to the Chromebook issue. I would like to draw attention to the Stanford study as it was paid for by a Nonprofit supported by a Media/Internet company which also supports SCOPE of Stanford. It would be analogous to the Beef Council proffering a study to say beef is the most nutritious thing to eat, or a million Monsanto paid for studies that tell you GMO’s are good for you, without allowing their GMO wheat to be tested by an outside industry group.

  3. Dawn, in your report here you quote Mr. Gunn as saying “If this bond passes they will become basically one” and describes that the merger of the bond allow for the estimated figures not the actual figures they are stating. Isn’t this the same illegal activity purported under Bruxton in the state auditor finding on page #8

    “Summary of Findings:
    • The proceeds of the 2012 general obligation bond and the 2014 general
    obligation transportation and building bonds were comingled into one
    bank account, resulting in the expenditures for each bond issue not
    being accounted for independently.

    According to your report of Mr. Gunn, the current school board with intent will again VIOLATE state law with the bond money by commingling it with other funds and not have a separated accounting as required by law as previously noted by the state auditor.

  4. I went back to the pdf on the school webpage since it is what raised my concerns. On page 21 (schedule 4.8)… it shows the millage rates for the life of the bond. The first year the rate is 12.64%, The third year the millage rate is 22.05%. So it may not be an adjustable rate in the sense that it fluctuates with current interest rates but it certainly doesn’t seem fair to call it a a fixed rate either. I don’t mean to be an alarmist… and please do straighten me out if I am misunderstanding.

    1. I think I was confusing the interest rate we are paying with the amount the taxes will go up. So the interest rate we are paying is what is FIXED like Mr Gunn said, but the millage rate jumps up the third year.

      1. You pay the millage – its how your property tax is figured – the School Board may borrow the money from the bond at a fixed rate, but what you pay, may vary depending on the millage.

        1. right…. so the schedule I’m referring to has a big jump in millage. Apparently that’s when the new bond is issued? I was thinking it was showing a big increase two years into the bond. And apparently I am miss reading it.

    2. Per the schedule, which is on the website, last years rate was12.7. This years rate is a projected 12.72. With the bond next years projected will be 22.05 and remain in the lower 20’s for the duration.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Close