ALL over the Oklahoma City metropolitan area in the past few years, voters have consented to school bond issues. Already this year, voters in Edmond and Putnam City approved bond issues for land, construction and technology. That's no surprise.
Edmond, Putnam City, Midwest City-Del City, Moore, Norman and other school districts across the state routinely seek voter approval to keep up with growing student populations, infrastructure improvements and changing needs. Up the turnpike, Tulsa Public Schools is in the planning stages of a technology focused bond issue that could go before voters as early as May.
In Oklahoma, school bond issues aren't just a way of life. They're critical for school districts of all sizes to upgrade infrastructure or even afford maintenance items such as roof replacements or heating and air system improvements. More often than not, voters understand that bond issues are necessary and approve them, despite the 60 percent supermajority requirement for approval. Most school districts simply need regular bond issues to survive.
So it's concerning that more than a decade after the passage of MAPS for Kids, Oklahoma City Public Schools has yet to establish a routine of asking voters to approve bond issues. Oklahoma City learned the hard way what happens when a school district accrues years and years of deferred maintenance. Buildings deteriorate. What would have been a simple fix turns into a complex and expensive job.
Approved in 2001, MAPS for Kids included a sales tax and bond issue — a rare combination for a school district. The dual approach allowed the school district upgrades it never could have afforded with just a bond issue. Six years later, voters OK'd Yes for Kids, a follow-up effort to add classrooms and gymnasiums at elementary schools. Work on the original MAPS for Kids projects is nearing an end. The 2007 bond work got off to a painfully slow start, but it is under way.
Before MAPS for Kids, Oklahoma City voters hadn't approved a school bond issue since 1993. The idea of dedicating a sales tax to schools was pretty new and viewed largely as a one-time fix for a very large problem. We can't imagine that those who helped craft MAPS for Kids envisioned a six-year gap between bond issue proposals. Of course, not just any bond issue will do. A poorly thought out plan isn't appreciably better than no plan at all.
But after all these years, the district should develop at least the beginnings of a routine bond issue schedule. The new buildings constructed under MAPS for Kids will eventually need costly maintenance — if they don't already. And the district's older buildings aren't getting any less expensive to maintain. One school board member recently questioned the age of the district's bus fleet.
MAPS for Kids was a major financial investment and leap of faith for a city hopeful its school system would improve. Part of that implied contract with voters is to properly maintain the investment. Given the district's size and sheer number of buildings, school bond issues aren't optional. A six-year schedule seems entirely too infrequent to keep pace with the needs.