A week from now it will be over. The campaigning and the voting. Luther Public Schools District voters will decide whether to approve the $25 million bond package to fund a variety of projects that include new saferooms, a cafeteria, library and gym.
There is ONE MORE information meeting before the election. It’s Thursday, September 5, at 7 pm at the high school (incidentally, the high school is one of the newest buildings in the school district, and bond payments are still being paid on it through property taxes).
We remember that a similar bond proposal failed to get a super majority at the polls earlier this year. The plan was redrawn and a new strategy was launched for another try on September 10. There are some differences in the campaign this time – there has been more of a strategy by the “Save Our Schools” group, that includes Doug Wilson and others who have been seen posting signs and answering questions. The school district has had public forums. And there have been some private meetings as well. The Save Our Schools group sponsored the signs, mailers and paid for advertising in The Luther Register (thank you). There has been an effort to reach out to pockets of voting areas that turned down the proposal last time. These areas include the western part of the district on Hiwassee Road, including the lake and other gated communities that are north of 66, where residents might not visit Luther or have children in the public school.
Those who are against the bond cite opposition to new taxes, and other claims. They recycled some of their signs from the last campaign, hiding with tape the January election date. The no vote campaign also plastered flyers under windshield wipers on vehicles parked at stores and restaurants Tuesday evening. The flyer is a copy of the mailer sent out last week. I got one on my vehicle while at Our Town Eatery meeting with the fabulous Apryl Campos about taking on duties of being our Lion Reporter this year! Of note, we posted a story about the Luther Lions’ football team’s first win. The data showing who clicked, shared and liked the story hasn’t been great – or not as good as the number of likes and shares over the social media post about Luther’s Sidewalk Sale this Saturday. Data shows the football story has been clicked on less than 150 times. And the team won! What’s up with that?
I didn’t see the ninja team who slipped the flyers on the vehicles, and was disappointed that I couldn’t ask a couple of questions. But I did decide then that I would try to write a missive about the campaign, and it’s where I find myself at 1:18 am. When I stopped by the post office earlier to take a picture of a “no” sign, the one with the “More Taxes” with a circle backlash, I noticed some fine print. It said: “in the interest of free speech, please don’t destroy this sign.” That sent me on a whole debate in my head about whether a political sign, without attribution, was free speech, but I digress. Also Russia. Shouldn’t we always know our sources?
Whether or not the no vote camp makes its case, it has been difficult to give credibility without a spokesperson. The former school leader likely responsible for paying the cost to print and mail the postcards and other efforts will not go on the record. And others on the no campaign have called the Luther Register “fake news.” Here is an email I saved: “You’re a joke to the community and most say that in private. They know who pulls your strings as they are visible from your slander and slighted viewpoint …Get a backbone for the community!”
Hey! That’s why they pay me the big bucks!
On the other hand, why is the basketball gym so old? Why has it taken almost 60 years to work on this issue? WHY do those precious middle schoolers have to be herded in and out of a tiny cafeteria and have their lunch time hang place be a parking lot? How did that happen? Why does the basement sometimes have standing water? Why don’t we have saferooms for all of the district’s students, and the public? Why didn’t they put heat in the ag barn when they built it?
Why ask why? It’s what we do. But in the alternative, do we want a creepy basement for a tornado shelter or a cramped cafeteria in a separate building, or a gym and a band room across town from the high school? I’ve heard school board members, administrators and others fully acknowledge, “yes, mistakes were made in the past.” What’s different this time? YOU. This community is awake. Ready to help and ready to criticize. We have criticism down!
This little school district has about a $5 million annual budget; with a new expense this year, a $1200 raise for teachers. Did you know Luther teachers got another raise? That’s two in a row! It’s what they call an unfunded mandate from the state – the legislature passed the raise, but Luther doesn’t qualify in the complicated funding formula to get extra cash to pay for it. So should the raise be denied to the teachers? The superintendent and school board said, “no way!” The money is coming out of the general fund. It’s about a six-figure hit to the budget. It might provide a little insight into the lack of a capital improvements savings account – still, could more money be saved for brick and mortar projects over time? The $25 million price tag on this package includes debt service payments, and bond advisor fees – paid for through the higher property taxes. That extra price tag is a hard pill to swallow for those among us who are savers, or “do without,” or even follow Dave Ramsey’s debt busting principles.
Right before the January election, we tried to get some outside perspective – and clarity about property taxes. It’s hard to find. The state bond advisor and the state treasurer’s office barely address local bond issues. Do you know who is supposed to hold a school district accountable? YOU! The taxpayers. How do we comb through the rhetoric, tax rates and promises? We study up and stay engaged. The school’s website has a whole tab about bond information. If this proposal passes next week, maybe we ask the school district for a citizen’s group to monitor the process and provide accountability and transparency.
Some will vote no on principle, from held beliefs about property taxes and property rights. Some will vote yes who do not own property in the district and will not be affected by the increased tax burden. I’ve heard from some who will vote no who have children currently in the district, and from some who will vote yes who home educate or utilize private schools. Some say they will vote no if the gym is constructed first, instead of the projects at the lower schools. Incidentally, with a local builder in Miller-Tippens, officials say many of the projects will start simultaneously, but some construction can’t begin until the students are away so the learning environment isn’t overtaken by hardhats.
When we talked to Oklahoma County Assessor Larry Stein before the January election, he noted that Luther is growing. We know that! With more homes, businesses and economic development, he said the property tax burden would spread out among more tax payers, beyond just the OGE power plant that pays the most property taxes in the district. How do we get more businesses? Support the ones we have for starters! That’s why we hammer shop local and why Town leaders want to fix neglected infrastructure for current residents and businesses, and future ones. It’s to have the opportunity to grow. (But not too big! Right? We’re looking at you Piedmont and Deer Creek). What if some of us did not have to drive to the city for our careers? Or move away for better jobs, or the big grocery store run, or to visit the doctor, dentist, a park or a workout gym? Public school proponents say that happens with a great local school district. It’s sort of a “which comes first” quandary – does a vibrant business climate enhance the public schools or does a great school bring new families and businesses to an area? Either way, the district and community should also note that school choice is hot, and there are many viable options for Luther families for education, and collaboration.
Stein said because there is a smaller pool of taxpayers in the school district, compared to Oklahoma City, each taxpayer pays more. He said in Oklahoma City, there might be 10,000 houses to spread out the cost of a bond debt. With population growth, the burden is shared, and he said the bond could get paid off more quickly …” from an article posted in January.
According to the State Election board, early voting at your county election board is on for Thursday and Friday from 8 am – 6 pm. The Luther School District is primarily in Oklahoma County, but also covers southern Logan County and western Lincoln County.