Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Muskogee voters to decide on $110M school bond today

Today, voters in Muskogee will be deciding on whether to adopt or reject a $110,000,000 school bond, the largest ever considered in the Muskogee Public Schools district. The proposal would spend $37,000,000 on a new football stadium and athletic complex, $5,000,000 on upgraded technology, and about $68,000,000 on demolition/reconstruction or remodeling of most school sites within the district.

The bond would increase the school district's portion of property taxes from 20 mils to about 32 mils, costing approximately $120 per year on a $100,000 property.

The district chose to pursue a lease-purchase bond instead of the more-traditional general obligation bond. Under a lease-purchase bond, the district obtains a loan for the full amount up front in order to begin construction and spending, as opposed to waiting for property tax collections to start coming in before projects can move forward. Lease-purchase bonds have been controversial in the past, as they essentially allow schools to bypass constitutional limits on indebtedness and can tie up bond capacity for longer periods of time than traditional bonds.

Voters in the district approved a bond in 2013, about 38% of which has not yet been collected and spent. This proposed bond was touted by school administration as a 12-year obligation, but a recent article in the Muskogee Phoenix quoted County Assessor Ron Dean as saying that it could extend into 16 years, depending on local growth rates.

Some highlights of the bond election details:

  • Activity Center and Varsity Stadium: $37,000,000
  • Freshman Academy @ Alice Robertson: $18,000,000
  • Tony Goetz Elementary: $13,000,000
  • Muskogee High School: $12,000,000
  • Sadler Arts Academy: $10,000,000
  • Early Childhood Center: $6,000,000
  • Technology acquisition and installation: $5,000,000
  • Benjamin Franklin Science Academy: $2,000,000
  • Grant Foreman Elementary: $2,000,000
  • Irving Elementary: $1,000,000
  • Creek Elementary: $1,000,000
  • Pershing Elementary: $1,000,000
  • New Tech at Cherokee Elementary: $1,000,000
  • Whittier Elementary: $1,000,000
  • TOTAL: $110,000,000
According to the 2017 Bond Transparency Act fact-sheet posted by MPS, there is still about $18,000,000 remaining to be collected and spent from a bond that was passed in 2013. Those bonds would still be collected and allocated as specified regardless of the outcome of Tuesday's vote.

You can view specific building projects, maps and details at this link. You can see concept renderings of the proposed building projects here, also provided by MPS.

School bonds require a 60% affirmative vote for passage. The last bonds received over 80% of the vote. However, the high percentage of funds in this round going toward a new stadium and athletic facilities has sparked more opposition than usual, it would seem.

The below graphic shows the proposed schedule of construction if the bond is approved. Projects on the athletics complex, Alice Robertson and Tony Goetz schools would begin almost immediately, while the rest of the schools wouldn't see work until mid-late 2020 or late 2021.

Due to the structure of the lease-purchase bond, about $20,000,000 to $30,000,000 would go to paying the bond owners. There's a lot of late-breaking conflicting information (this didn't seem to get covered in the MPS campaign materials), some saying that it's figured into the $110,000,000 figure (such as the aforementioned Phoenix article) and others saying that it would be on top of the full bond price. I'll be honest, bonds aren't my specialty. 

MPS estimates that the top per-year cost of the bond would be about $60 for a $50,000 assessed property, $120 for a $100,000 property, $240 for a $200,000 property, and so on.

Polls will be open from 7am to 7pm. Don't forget to exercise your right to vote, as this will impact everyone who lives within the MPS district.


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