DALLAS — A $354 million general obligation bond issue outlined for trustees of the Tulsa County Independent School District No. 1 on Monday night would continue efforts contained in a 20-year capital improvement program adopted in 1995.
Trustees are expected to set a March 2 election on the four-part bond proposal, the largest in district history, at their meeting on Dec. 17.
The project list developed by a 23-member citizens committee includes $261.4 million to build new schools and renovate existing facilities, $61.3 million for textbooks and educational technology, $19.6 million for library books and furniture, and $11.7 million for transportation.
District officials said the proposed new debt would not require an increase in the school’s property tax rate of 23 mills. The district has about $170 million of outstanding debt.
The district’s GOs have underlying ratings of Aa2 from Moody’s Investors Service and AA from Standard & Poor’s. With 40,000 students, the school district is the largest in Oklahoma.
Rachel Maze, executive director of the Foundation for Tulsa Schools and chairman of the citizens bond committee, said the district’s 20-year program is a response to many years of inadequate capital funding.
“The major problem is that the average age of our schools is 51 years, and 97% of our 91 buildings are 31 years old or more,” Maze said. “We still have a long way to go to catch up with the needs resulting from not passing any capital improvement bonds from 1969 to 1991.”
The district did not have a bond election between 1969 and 1991, she said. Voters approved $7 million of GOs for school buses in 1992, but rejected other proposals in 1992 and 1993.
Since the district adopted the capital program, which is updated and extended annually, voters have approved $94.5 million of GOs in 1996, $109 million in 1999, $140.7 million in 2001, and $162.2 million in 2005.
“In 1995, we had library books stacked in school cafeterias, and only a few elementary schools even had libraries,” Maze said. “Now, they all do.”
The bond proposal will be broken into four separate items on the March ballot, she said.
“Our polling tells us that the separate questions give the voters the sense they have more control over how the money is allocated,” she said. “If someone doesn’t like the idea of buying buses, for example, they can vote against that without rejecting the whole package.”
If trustees approve, the 2010 school bond election will be Tulsa’s first one held in the spring rather than fall, she said.
“People are more positive about schools in the fall rather than in the spring, and this one will fall just about at spring break next year,” Maze said. “But the city is now holding municipal elections in the fall, and we didn’t want to get the school bond question involved in city politics.”