DALLAS - Voters in Oklahoma braved high winds and plunging temperatures to approve $353.9 million of school district and municipal bonds at special elections on Tuesday.
Ten school districts saw their proposals defeated, as voters rejected a total of $43.7 million of school bonds. School bonds in Oklahoma must win approval of 60% plus one of those casting ballots in elections.
The larger proposals won approval, including Broken Arrow's request for $38.5 million of general obligation bonds, Tulsa County Independent School District No. 3's proposal for $153.4 million of GO bonds, and a $96.7 million bond program proposed by Oklahoma County Independent School District No. 4.
Measures rejected by voters include $19.2 million of bonds by Custer County Independent School District 99, $9.1 million by Logan County Independent School District No. 1, and $9 million by Craig County Independent School District No. 1.
More than 70% of the voters approved Tulsa County ISD's proposal that calls for $153.4 million of bonds for new and upgraded school facilities and $800,000 for new buses.
The financing plan developed by financial adviser Stephen McDonald of Stephen H. McDonald & Associates Inc. calls for the school district to use proceeds from lease revenue bonds issued by a separate public property corporation to acquire new facilities rather than relying on a conventional capital improvement program financed with GOs.
The public property corporation will issue the lease-revenue bonds, use the proceeds to build the facilities, and lease the property and the improvements back to the district. The corporation supports the bonds with the proceeds from the school district's GOs that are pledged as lease payments for the facilities.
"The voters approved a program with 12 annual series of GO bonds of approximately $12.8 million to make the lease payments on those facilities," McDonald said. "That's only about half of the district's bonding capacity, so after the second year they will be issuing additional GO bonds to pay for technology, buses, school-owned uniforms, and library books."
McDonald said the leaseback program allows districts to build needed facilities quickly. School districts in Oklahoma cannot have outstanding debt equivalent to more than 10% of the net assessed property values in the district, which often requires them to build schools over a number of years with the proceeds from several small bond issues.
Voters were asked to authorize the amount of bonds necessary to complete the entire project rather than the debt that could be accommodated under the 10% limit.
The Tulsa district's superintendent, Kirby Lehman, said the leaseback plan will allow the district to complete its planned facilities in three years rather than the 10 that would be needed with conventional financing.
The school district's bonds are rated Aa3 by Moody's Investors Service.
McDonald said the lease program is an increasingly attractive option for Oklahoma school districts. "A lot of folks were keeping an eye on this election," he said.
The high approval rate for school bonds across the state was encouraging, according to McDonald.
"Given the events in the market over the last two months, these results are a pretty good indication of strong backing by the voters for education and of a strong connection with the local districts," he said.
Voters in the Tulsa suburb of Broken Arrow overwhelmingly approved all four propositions of the city's three-year, $38.5 million GO issue along with two propositions reallocating funds from previously approved bond programs.
The Broken Arrow plan includes $15.3 million of bonds for street renovations and maintenance, $12.7 million for parks projects, $7.1 million for public safety, and $3.3 million for storm water drainage system improvements.
The city's GOs are rated A1 by Moody's and A-plus by Standard & Poor's.