For now, it appears the Oklahoma City school district no longer has a $40 million problem.
A few months ago, school Superintendent Karl Springer and then-school board chairman Kirk Humphreys were holding up a white flag and slamming the brakes on the 2007 bond issue overwhelmingly passed by school patrons. The two school leaders claimed an error had occurred, causing the district to come up $40 million short of its plan approved by the public.
But that was six months and one school board chairman ago.
“I don’t think we were ever in jeopardy of anything. I think we are safe,” said the current school board chairwoman Angela Monson.
Based on that advice, the school board approved the selling of the first one-fifth on the 2007 general obligation bond issue at its April 29 meeting. The money, $56.2 million, will help start construction of 54 classrooms and 47 gymnasiums.
Back in January, it looked like none of the construction would take place. Voters had approved a $248 million bond issue, broken into four propositions. The largest went for classroom and gymnasium construction, which is where Springer said the shortfall problem existed. Other propositions for transportation and technology purchases went on as planned.
Springer recommended holding off on selling any more construction bonds until a solution could be found. At the board’s Feb. 2 meeting, Humphreys and Springer presented a plan that would extend the maturity of the bonds, allowing for a longer period of time to pay off the bond while continuing on with the construction plan.
But before the board could take action of the proposal, Humphreys was defeated in the election and Monson took over. The new head of the board wanted to go over the situation one more time before deciding on a course of action.
By April, she had made up her mind.
“I have no reason to believe we have over-exceeded our bonding capacity,” Monson said. “I have no reason to believe we should not have sold those bonds. I think right now the board has to focus on how we are going to spend those dollars.”
FEELING AT EASE
Since the April meeting, the board has met at a retreat to discuss several issues, including the 2007 bond issue. With board members feeling at ease on the money, priorities have to be set as to which classrooms and gyms get built first.
“The district has to decide how we are going to oversee those projects, the implementation of those projects,” Monson said. “I think we need to find our way so that we can be accountable and responsible for those projects.
“I told the superintendent I don’t think we should proceed on spending money until we have a detailed plan on how we are going to spend all of the money. We need a full plan so that when projects come up toward the end of the list they don’t get shortchanged.”
The funds are expected to come in around June.
As for Springer, Monson said she has full confidence in him.
“I want him to be successful. I want us all to get along and work together. We have a good working relationship. It’s very open and very candid. I make errors, and I don’t expect he will be perfect. The main thing is, we both acknowledge when we’ve had shortcomings.”
Monson said she does not hold Springer responsible for the delay in selling the bonds brought on by the concern of a shortfall. Monson’s main concern is moving forward.
“We as a board, along with Superintendent Springer, have an obligation to the people who put us into office to have the information, all the information, and act appropriately on that information, even it if means slow down. I would rather go slow and right than go really fast and make assumptions and find out later we’re not correct.”
Springer declined an interview with Oklahoma Gazette without receiving questions in advance. “Scott Cooper