We are being asked whether to make Luther schools safer and better in a September 12, 2023, election. A proposed $43 million bond issue would fund a variety of projects including safe rooms, a new gymnasium, restrooms, and renovations.
Ask a Luther Middle School student where they eat lunch for insight on their facilities. They scuttle across a parking lot in shifts to eat, and then hangout on the parking lot with no shelter until their next class. Bathrooms? Wait in line. While the historic (un-airconditioned) gymnasium, built in 1963, holds many memories of school spirit – it’s too small to hold the fan base or anyone who requires accessibility. The other projects on the bond address safety and accommodations. See the full breakdown of the projects below.
The bond issue will cost property taxpayers in the school district. It’s a humble ask, and the first request of voters since 2019, before the pandemic. Just how much will it cost us? To break it down, if your property taxes are $1,000, your ad valorem taxes would increase by $98 a year, or less than the cost of eating out for a cheap lunch just once a month for about $8, if you don’t add a drink (but please include a tip and please go to a Luther restaurant!).
Still, taxes are taxes. We all have opinions about paying them and how taxpayer funds are used and abused at all levels of government. Throw in the dissonance of owning property and paying perennial taxes, and ever-increasing expenses for everything, it can be a tough sell for any tax increase anywhere for any reason. Yet, here we are. While not all of us have children at Luther Public Schools, our neighbors do.
Luther Public School Superintendent Barry Gunn said the reason for a tax increase is because of how low property taxes are in our area, with a millage rate much lower than surrounding districts. “I get that people don’t want to pay taxes but it’s hard to get people to understand that according to surrounding districts, we are not paying what people in Jones, Choctaw, or Edmond pay. And if we did, we would never have to have another tax increase. We would leave it at that. When projects are paid off, we would vote another one (at the same rate) for new roofs, air conditioners, whatever we need,” he said.
$43 Million Bond Project Breakdown
- New Elementary Media Center Safe Room Addition | 3,250 sf plus 400 occupant safe room
- New Pre-K/Kindergaren Safe Room Addition | 980 sf plus 120 occupant safe room
- Renovation of exisiting cafeteria and kitchen
- Renovation of existing Pre-K building
- Renovation of lower elementary
- Renovation of existing office
- Exterior Renovation
- Bathroom additions for Grades 5 & 6
- New Saferoom/Cafeteria | 9.141 sf and 365 seats
- Full kitchen
- Competition gymnasium
- 28,471 sf | 1,060 seats
- Locker rooms
- Weight room
Let’s get this done
The project should look familiar. New safe rooms, cafeteria, bathrooms, and a new gym were the top features of two separate bond elections in 2019 (January and September) that failed to capture the 60% majority of yes votes. The 2023 version is largely the same, except the cost has doubled thanks to time, higher interest rates and financing. However, while the price tag is higher, the additional tax burden by design remains below 10%. In addition, the projects were shaved where it made sense. Property owners will pay for these projects for 22 years through property taxes, however, school officials point out that the OGE Red Bud Power Plant in the district will pick up 57% of the tab because of its tax obligation. Important to note, if the district’s tax base increases through new housing and businesses (and it is), the property tax burden would spread out among a larger pool of property tax payers.
“For projects like this, we would never be able to save enough money. Our building fund and the money we get every year are meant to be spent on this year’s children. So we’re not supposed to save money, we are not in the business of that,” said Gunn.
It’s what it’s going to take, a few more yes votes and a few less no votes.Superintendent Barry Gunn
Gunn said a three-week awareness period was planned for the election, coinciding with the beginning of school on August 17. “We are always excited to start a new school year, and we will be more excited after September 12 or have a letdown to deal with. The general feel is to do it at the beginning of the year before the excitement is gone.”
Every vote counts
The September 12 election will have just one item, this proposition, for school district voters of all political parties living in parts of Oklahoma, Logan, and Lincoln counties. You must be registered to vote (if you are not registered to vote, you have missed the deadline for this election). Find more election information here, including the handy voter portal. It’s easy math, if you want the bond vote to pass, you better vote. Carve out the time in your day between 7 AM – 7 PM. Find your precinct location. It’s not enough to get more yes votes than no, there has to be a super-majority to get it done.
“We have the greatest students ever. They are the bright spot in the whole thing. That is what we are in the business for. Everything we do, we ask ourselves, ‘Is it good for students?’ The second thing is, ‘Can we afford it?’ And then we go from there. That’s still the reason,” said Gunn.
Why I am voting yes
There are arguments all day, every day, about taxes, and education, and small government and who should or should not get government help. If those arguments would turn to consensus and change, that would be great, and we should keep trying. But none of that is going to change through this particular election. This is the system we have, unfortunately. I don’t have a child at LPS, and actually home educated our three children who are now grown. I will vote yes, again. On September 12, I will drive all of the way to my Logan County precinct at Woodcrest Fire Station, because absentee voting is not for me.
If this bond ask fails, again, I don’t want to look in the eyes of any of the 800 or so LPS students or their parents or their teachers, shake my head with them again, and grasp desperately for convincing words to assure them the “no voters” don’t hate them, or are selfish: “it’s not you, it’s taxes!” Platitudes of tax reform fall flat when the elementary students have to pile up in the creepy, leaky, and dark basement during a tornado warning. I would rather high-five the students in celebration of a miracle, that a community chose generosity, even sacrifice, for them.
If you’re still reading, thank you. I don’t usually come right out in support of something. I try to play it cool, collect all the details, not appear biased. We get frustrated about the news because we’ve been conditioned (and trained) that journalists are supposed to be non-biased. Turns out journalists are humans, have opinions, do a lot of research, and vote too. I’ve invested myself in this community, walking a fine line of reporter and community cheerleader. Why hide it here? Why not provide you with that insight? Sharing my opinion feels more transparent. On this one, we have a clear call to action, VOTE (yes) on September 12.