No, Yes, Yes, Yes on the Tulsa Public Schools bond questions

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Note: Reader Mike comments, "FYI, Ballots are out of sync with the school board's proposal PDF explanation. Side 2 (ballot back side) lists Question/Proposition #3 as Transportation and Question/Proposition #4 as Textbooks, Materials & Technology." I've corrected the order below to reflect the ballot proposition numbers.

This Tuesday, Tulsa Public Schools taxpayers will vote on a massive $354 million bond issue (click for an unwieldy PDF of the proposal), organized into four questions:

  1. Building Facilities Construction and Repairs: $261,415,000
  2. Library Books, Learning Materials and Building Additions: $19,600,000
  3. Transportation: $11,695,000
  4. Textbooks, Classroom Learning Materials and Technology: $61,290,000

I plan to vote against proposition 1 (facilities) and for the other three (libraries, classroom, transportation).

Although passage of the bond issue won't raise the overall millage, TPS still has an obligation to focus any bond issue on necessities. But a full fifth of Proposition 1 ($52,460,000) is devoted to athletic facilities -- stadium press box upgrades, all weather tracks and track re-surfacing, locker and weight room improvements, artificial turf, and a whopping $30 million for new field houses for Washington, Edison, and Memorial High School. Spending this kind of money on athletic facilities in this bond issue means deferring repairs, renovations, and expansions that serve the core function of the school system. Most of the proposed athletic facility improvements are the sort of thing that used to be funded by alumni, local businesses, and booster clubs.

Another reason to vote no -- a reason that applies to the entire bond package -- is the enormous percentage of the package designated for "Professional Services/Bond Management Fee" -- a grand total of $11,071,000, more than 3% of the total bond package. I have this sneaking suspicion (although I can't verify it) that the professional services and bond management that will be funded with this $11 million won't be competitively bid.

The bond package includes materials and projects that look like operating expenses to me, not capital equipment, and many of the numbers seem randomly selected -- e.g. $15,000 per high school for PE and health education equipment. Why not $10,000 or $20,000? It doesn't seem to be based on specific needs.

The following line item is almost enough to make me vote against the classroom materials proposition:

21st Century Classroom Teaching Equipment $6,661,800

Funds will be used to provide equitable access to quality learning tools, technologies, and resources to create learning environments and teaching practices that will equip all students with 21st Century skils. To meet the diverse learning needs of today's students, classrooms will be equipped with technological tools that include electronic whiteboards, sound enhancement, video systems, and other technologies to create interactive learning environments, enabling students to learn in a relevant, real world context. These new technologies will support an expanded community and global involvement in learning, both face-to-face with classroom teachers, as well as online with learning communities, preparing our students for a highly competitive and collaborative world.

I see every week what Augustine Christian Academy manages to accomplish with plain ol' whiteboards, donated, slightly out-of-date computer equipment, and per-pupil expenditures less than half that of the state public school system. ACA doesn't have much in the way of classroom technology, but they do have caring teachers, orderly classrooms, and a focus on the essentials of knowledge. Electronic whiteboards may be fun to play with, may have some marginal instructional value, but they aren't going to "prepar[e] our students for a highly competitive and collaborative world." With all this technology and no change in TPS's educational philosophy, TPS will continue to turn out graduating seniors who are less prepared for success in the world than my tenant farmer grandpa was when he finished 8th grade in 1931.

There are signs of bloat all over this bond package. It's telling that you never see a breakdown of each category of spending to the level of items that one could buy at retail. As we've seen with the State Auditor's investigation of the Skiatook school district, it's easy to hide big commissions and markups in an aggregate number. It's only when you look at specific items -- computers, light bulbs, trashcans -- that you can tell whether the district is getting good value for money.

There's one final reason I'm voting against the school's facilities bond: I've seen what they did with facilities funds in previous bond issues. A few months ago I was over on the west side and stopped in at Crow's Drive-In for a bite to eat. Just across the street to the south is the architectural abortion known as the new Clinton Middle School. TPS tore down a dignified civic building, originally built as Red Fork's own high school, and erected a really hideous building in its place.


Clinton Middle School from the Beryl Ford Collection



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Bob said:

"$11,071,000, more than 3% of the total bond package" goes to Professional Services/Bond Management Fee.

Yes, Michael, you are virtually assured that this fee will be sole-sourced to Bank of Oklahoma, eschewing competitive bidding.

As per norm.

Of course, those of us who would just as soon see government out of the business of education altogether will be voting no on everything.

I've seen, far too many times, complete amateurs get results with their children at home that blow away government-school results, to be convinced that government schools do much of anything but waste time and inhibit learning. I am speaking in the main, of course. There are exceptional teachers and even exceptional schools. In the main, though, government schools are worse than useless, they are actively harmful.

Now, just watch the schtuffstorm that erupts over that. :)

Mike said:

FYI, Ballots are out of sync with the school board's proposal PDF explanation. Side 2 (ballot back side) lists Question/Proposition #3 as Transportation and Question/Proposition #4 as Textbooks, Materials & Technology. This could make a difference for those folks who do not read the Ballot questions!

jwcoopusa said:

I agree with you about the foolishness of tearing down existing structures simply to replace them with more "modern" facilities. The underlying purpose has become to generate more business for architectural and construction firms as opposed to carefully shepherding public funds. Traditionally designed structures are being destroyed for no good reason. Although it's nice to travel around NE Oklahoma and view the old, abandoned school buildings, it would be nicer to be able to simple drive to Tulsa and see the architecture - PRESERVED, and productively used!


Brooksider Author Profile Page said:

There could be many reasons for demolishing existing facilities: It may be cheaper to tear it down than bring it up to code, for one. I agree sports facilities should be a lower priority, but then I would put art & music close to the top.

As for the failures of public education, there are also many reasons. I agree money won't solve those problems, but Michael's comparison to ACA is a straw man, no more valid than comparing public schools to Holland Hall, a relatively high-tech facility. Private schools get to pick their students, public schools do not. Too many public school students and parents don't care. Many of the terribly destructive peer groups which creep into public schools simply don't exist in private schools. The solution isn't in pointing out the success of private schools. They have always been successful.

Public schools have been a bedrock of success for middle America, a catalyst in the melting pot. Their failure contributes to the Balkanization of this county, the breakdown of communities, a loss of faith in Americans as a whole, and it bodes ill for our future, all of us.

Moogle Author Profile Page said:

The whole thing seems to be an effort at finding a bunch of stuff on which to blow money in order to keep claim to an existing tax.

Bob said:

$52,000,000 on associated athletic facilities?

Get real to get my vote.

Susan Monhollon said:

I've subbed in over half the schools in Tulsa for 10 years and seen so much money wasted it makes me almost cry. This bill is not for the children-its to further big business!!!

XonOFF said:

Susan and Moogel are right.

I'm voting NO on all of them.
They will be back next year with a more reasonable package which may warrant consideration.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on February 28, 2010 9:04 PM.

My week in jail and a visit to the Aztec Theater for "San Antonio Rose Live" was the previous entry in this blog.

Tulsa middle school receives national architectural recognition is the next entry in this blog.

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