Voters passed by a wide margin a state record-setting $415 million school bond package for Tulsa Public Schools on Tuesday.
The TPS Citizens Bond Development Committee created the four-part package — which passed with more than 80 percent each — to complete a 20-year plan for facilities updates and to help the inner city school district continue to catch up to its suburban school neighbors in providing student access to technology.
“The kids who are going to Tulsa Public Schools tomorrow deserve this opportunity,” said Superintendent Keith Ballard at an evening watch party. “They deserve the opportunity to have technology that’s one-to-one, they deserve the opportunity to play in a field house like I saw last night at Edison and the one I saw a few nights before at Memorial. They deserve to be in facilities that are tornado-proof. They deserve to be out of those 120 trailers.
“We did do this for the kids first and foremost, but this is (also) huge for Tulsa.”
The bond package will provide $239.74 million for building construction and repairs, $19.8 million for school libraries, $17.025 million for transportation needs and $138.435 million for textbooks and other classroom materials.
Included in the facilities proposal was $72.35 million budgeted for school additions that would all double as storm shelters. That will allow for the replacement of 80 of the district’s 120 prefab or trailer classrooms with permanent classrooms.
Other major projects will be the creation of a centralized Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, center for use by all Tulsa students, major building renovations at 21 schools, new libraries at three schools, new multi-purpose field houses at East Central High School and McLain Junior High and High School, and new football stadiums with bleachers, concession areas and locker rooms at Rogers Early College Junior High and High School and Central High School.
District officials say another critical area of need is transportation updates. Maintenance challenges in the TPS Transportation Department rose to such a level this year that the school board took the unusual step of purchasing 26 “gently used” buses mid-year because they could get them in much quicker than going through the process of ordering new buses.
Of the total dollars, $110 million, or almost 27 percent, would be spent on technology.
In May 2013, TPS sought and received voter approval for a $38 million technology bond to begin playing catch-up to suburban schools. District leaders said the 2015 bond package will get the school district close to having one device — be it a desktop or laptop computer or a tablet — per student and support for a “bring your own device” to school initiative.
Ballard noted Tuesday evening what the “raw support” of voters who went to the polls meant to him personally, explaining that ushering along the 2015 bond package was one of the main reasons he remained as superintendent the last two years.
“On a personal note, this means a lot to me,” said Ballard, who is set to retire June 30.
He set down the microphone with his lips trembling and wiped tears from his eyes.
Tulsa Regional Chamber Chief Executive Officer Mike Neal picked up the mic and congratulated Ballard saying, “You could not go out more on top than you are today.”
The last full capital improvements bond package for TPS was for $354 million in 2010.
By law, Oklahoma schools cannot make capital improvements with their general funds. So they turn to voters to approve bonds for capital needs such as roof, window and heating and air-conditioning replacement, new school and athletic facility needs, school buses, computers and textbooks and library materials.
A “supermajority” of at least 60 percent of voters are required by state law for approval of such school bonds.
The sale of the new bonds will be timed to keep current tax rates level.