By Katherine Parker
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Editor’s note: This is the latest in a series of articles on the Norman Public School district’s proposed bond issue to be voted on Tuesday.
Columbine, Sandy Hook, Briarwood and Plaza Towers are all tragedies that burn bright in the memories of parents, school administrators and the country.
With safety a hot topic today, schools are implementing technology, changing procedures and remodeling buildings to enhance security. Such safety measures can include secure entry vestibules that create an entryway to schools that only allows visitors access to a schools’ classrooms, students and teachers after passing through a main office; safe rooms that provide safe shelter during an invasion by an intruder or during strong storms like tornadoes; and enclosed classrooms that create rooms with traditional walls and a door that provides a teacher with the ability to lockdown his or her classroom.
Norman Public Schools has dedicated 13 percent of the 2014 bond issue funds to safety and security. The bond issue would pay for the security measures described above — secure entry vestibules, safe rooms and enclosed classrooms. School administration said the district has been working on enhanced security and safety since the 2006 bond, in which Truman Elementary’s gymnasium was made into a safe room and a majority of schools were updated with secure entry vestibules.
“We cannot foresee all the things that might happen, but we know that the proposed measures will make our schools safer. And that is certainly the priority of the board and of everyone who works in our schools,” Dan Snell, NPS Board of Education member, said.
The $126 million, five-year bond issue will be voted on Tuesday in two proposals. Since it is over five years, the bond issue is the largest ever proposed in the school district’s history. For the bond issue to pass, it must carry a vote of 60 percent. By the end of early in-person voting on Friday, 217 people had voted.
Voters will be asked to approve one proposal representing $122.5 million for renovations, safety and security, technology, athletics and annual expenditure projects, as well as a separate $3.5 million proposal for transportation. State law requires transportation be a separate proposal in school bond elections.
The $126 million bond issue is not expected to raise or lower property taxes because other bonds will have been paid off by the time the new bonds would hit the tax rolls.
NPS Superintendent Dr. Joe Siano said that the bond issue would give the school district the chance to look at security from a big picture standpoint.
“The bond issue gives us the opportunity to invest in things that weren’t priorities when our older schools were built,” Siano said. “This bond can let us utilize technology and make procedural changes to enhance safety within our schools.”
If the bond issue passes, the following schools will receive secure entry vestibules: Norman High School, Alcott Middle School, Longfellow Middle School, Cleveland Elementary School, Eisenhower Elementary School, Jackson Elementary School, Kennedy Elementary School, Monroe Elementary School and Wilson Elementary School.
Additionally, the following schools would receive renovations that could incorporate safe rooms: Norman High and Norman North both would add university centers that would contain safe rooms; Irving Middle School would get a classroom addition with a safe room and a wrestling facility that could function as a safe room; Whittier Middle School would get a wrestling facility that could function as a safe room; Lincoln Elementary School would get a classroom addition with a safe room and a cafeteria that could function as a safe room; and Reagan Elementary School would get a four-classroom pod addition with safe room.
Kennedy Elementary and Eisenhower Elementary would both have classrooms enclosed. Currently, these elementary schools have open classroom concepts in which a mishmash of materials, including dry erase boards, book shelves, computers, desks, etc., create separation between classes that are contained in one large space.
Susan Powell, Eisenhower Elementary principal, who first entered Norman schools when she was completing student teaching in the 1980s, said there is a comfort level to the community feel that the open concept gives Eisenhower, but that safety is paramount.
“It’s time changes were implemented,” she said. “...Safety is an ongoing conversation, and we do drills every year and have safety procedures in place. But enclosing classrooms will limit the access visitors have to students. The more barriers between intruders you don’t want in your school and students the better.”
Additionally, Montie Koehn, Kennedy Elementary principal, said she believed enclosing the classrooms at Kennedy would be beneficial by making the school less overwhelming to pre-K and kindergarten students and by providing teachers with more storage opportunities.
“Cluttered classrooms can be very distracting,” she said. “Enclosing classrooms will provide for more storage space and a neater learning area.”
Both NPS principals said that noise levels during testing would become less of a concern with enclosed classrooms and that teachers might be able to utilize new or different activities and lessons that would not have been appropriate previously due to noise level.
Norman Public Schools’ Board of Education member Julie Raadschelders said she believes school safety is a foundational cornerstone that supports the educational environment.
“Our students, teachers and staff must feel safe and secure in order to focus on the important business of learning, and our parents and community members need to know that when school is in session, everyone on NPS properties is safe and sound,” Raadschelders said. “Norman has a proud history of passing bond issues and supporting its public schools, and I’m confident that the 2014 bond will continue on that proud path. Per student funding for public education is lower than 2008, but we need to do what we can to continue our progress toward providing a safe and secure environment so all of our students can learn and grow. Passing this bond issue will not raise taxes, but it will raise our confidence in the safety and security of our schools.”
The bond issue represents the sum of the district’s bonding capacity for five years. NPS utilized a revenue bond structure, allowing immediate access to funds it would have had access to over five years and use them to make needed capital investments district-wide in a shorter period of time.
The law requires all bond issue projects to be completed within three years of the start date.
In 2009, NPS passed a similar bond issue for $109 million. The 2009 bond issue focused on renovations of elementary and middle schools, and Ronald Reagan Elementary was built. All of the 2009 bond issue projects were completed on time.
The projects included in the 2014 bond issue were identified in an objective process that drew from an independent Norman Demographic Study in 2012 and independent Facility Plan studies conducted in 2007 and 2013.
Polls will open 7 a.m. on Tuesday and close at 7 p.m. Sample ballots are available at the Cleveland County Election Board website.
The Cleveland County Election Board is at 641 E. Robinson St., Suite 200. For more information, call 366-0210 or visit clevelandcountyelectionboard.com.
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