In November, Oklahoma voters are expected to have packed ballots for the state’s 2022 general election: federal races, statewide contests, potential state questions, and a bevy of important legislative and county positions. But those who reside within Oklahoma City Public Schools boundaries are also expected to consider a bond package for capital projects in the district.
Exactly what those proposed projects will be and the total bond proposal’s cost were the focus of a nearly two-hour meeting at Douglass High School on Tuesday evening. As community members gathered for their first chance to discuss the topic with OKCPS leadership, they expressed a desire for district equity to be a top priority.
One person said schools on the northeast side of the city feel like the “step children” of the district.
“Our role as a district, we believe, is to provide opportunities so our kids can be successful and so they can compete,” OKCPS Superintendent Sean McDaniel said during the meeting. “To keep our kids on par with everyone else, we need successful bond elections. Bond elections aren’t just for building schools. They’re to help run a district.”
Former State Sen. Anastasia Pittman, who is currently running for Oklahoma County District 1 commissioner, attended the evening’s meeting, which included about 35 OKCPS community members. She said she worries about a lack of accountability surrounding school bonds if community members don’t know the history of OKCPS bond issues and where they may have fallen short in the past.
“Until we see a breakdown of what the bond is going to do, you’re going to have reservation from voters,” Pittman said during the meeting. “This looks great on the surface, but we want to know dollars and cents per project, and then we want a timeline.”
Throughout the evening, McDaniel emphasized the meeting was just one of many that would be held during development of the bond package and before the election in November. He also said he would continue to make himself available to community members to discuss the topic further, whether that be at a large group like a PTA meeting or a small group at an IHOP.
“Tonight is about process and casting a vision,” McDaniel said. “We can do bigger and better by our kids than what we’re doing. What I’m asking the community to do is consider this. Think about what could be and how this could benefit a whole bunch of students, families, faculty and staff so we can compete statewide and globally.”
A survey available for community members to share their thoughts on what projects they’d like to see included in the OKCPS bond issue has already collected 2,000 responses and will be open until May 15.
Details about the proposed bond package could be presented to the school board in August. The board would vote on whether to put the proposal before the public on the November ballot.
OKCPS bond issue: ‘Vote on opportunities for kids’
While the bond projects are not slated to be selected until July, current ideas for district projects discussed by McDaniel on Tuesday evening include:
- A multi-purpose indoor activity center
- A multi-purpose outdoor athletics center
- A performing arts center
- STEM centers
- An innovation hub
- A vocational agriculture center
- A college and career readiness center
Community member Tonya McCleary said she would not vote for any OKCPS bond issue that fails to prioritize the future of her historic alma mater, Douglass High School.
“How can we make sure our voting for the bond election is going to protect the students? How can we have faith that students will always be top of mind and, personally, that Douglass will not be recommissioned and turned into something else?,” McCleary asked. “That is tied to our vote — that we protect our alma mater and protect our students.”
McCleary also expressed concerns over accountability surrounding the spending of bond proceeds if McDaniel were to move to another district.
“If you’re voting on a bond issue, hopefully you’re not voting on a superintendent. You’re voting on the issue itself, and if those things represent, no question, opportunities for kids,” McDaniel said. “By law, we don’t have choices in how we spend the money once the bond is passed. We have an oversight group from all over our community who will say, ‘That’s not what we told him.’ Vote on opportunities for kids, and as long as I’m here, hold me accountable.”
Pastor Derrick Scobey, who also serves as a member on the Bond Oversight and Planning Committee for the district, said the focus of the OKCPS bond issue needs to include all schools.
“What we cannot do is just be focused on Douglass. I’m a Trojan. I love Douglass. [Star Spencer High School], they’re in the pits. What we cannot do is just focus solely — us being selfish to (include) just what we consider to be the northeast side — because we don’t consider Spencer the northeast side,” Scobey said. “We cannot leave Spencer out. But let me tell you, someplace else we can’t leave out: We cannot leave out that 101-year-old school that many African American kids went to in middle school, and that’s Capitol Hill Middle School.”
Scobey pointed out the large number of hispanic students that attend Capitol Hill Middle School now.
“You know how we felt 30 years ago. We were left behind. Now, those kids are being left behind,” Scobey said. “We have to consider others [other] than ourselves. We were in the same boat that they’re in right now, and we have to do our best also for them.”
Despite her concerns, McCleary emphasized that she is a huge supporter of bond financing.
“I have never not voted for a bond issue in every state and city I’ve lived,” McCleary said. “But there is a question how things will be allocated and who is doing the picking and choosing of the programs.”
McDaniel said the purpose of community meetings and surveys is to make the right decisions.
“If we can’t point to every decision and say this is good long-term for kids, then we need to rethink that particular project or solution,” McDaniel said. “Vote on projects and opportunities. Don’t vote so much on people like me.”