School board issues $21.4M in bonds

Emma Keith / The Transcript

Norman High students were recognized Monday for their achievements with the Oklahoma Art Education Association Young People's Art Exhibit at the Norman Public Schools Board of Education's meeting.

Norman Public Schools' Board of Education issued $21.4 million in bonds, heard comments on student technology and recognized multiple students for fine arts achievements at its Monday night meeting.

The district sold a $18.6 million combined purpose bond series and a $2.8 million building bond series early Monday afternoon, BOK Financial Securities investment banker Zack Robinson told the board. The bonds are part of a $186 million bond issue, approved by voters in 2019, that will fund soon-to-begin construction and repair projects across the district.

Robinson said after a highly competitive bidding process, the first bond series of $18.6 million went to BNY Mellon Capital Markets, a debt and equity underwriter, at an interest rate of 1.18%.

The second bond series of $2.8 million went to investment bank and financial services company RW Baird at 1.70% in a sale Robinson said was "pretty competitive."

Robinson said the interest rates on both bonds were fairly low and favorable for the district.

The board voted to issue the bonds Monday night.

The board also continued to make bond project progress by awarding the reroofing job at Jefferson, Lincoln and Wilson elementary schools to Metro Roofing for at least $1.08 million Monday.

Along with hearing an update on special services and the district's work and funding to provide for students with special needs, the board also heard from several teachers at Monday's meeting.

During the public communications section of the meeting, five Lincoln Elementary teachers and staffers stood up to highlight their experiences with district-provided technology at an elementary level.

Teachers said they and their students have experienced enhanced learning and understanding abilities with the addition of more technology to their classrooms.

The increased flow of iPads into elementary classrooms was funded by the district's 2019 bond package, and took effect in August 2019. At an elementary level, each NPS student now has access to one device at school.

"Our students have benefited greatly, as we're able to bring innovative practices and transformative learning at the point of need for those students -- it's no longer an event like a computer lab, it's when they need it," said Lincoln librarian Teresa Lansford.

Monday's public comments were a stark contrast to the public communication section of the board's Jan. 13 meeting, during which about two dozen parents addressed the board with concerns about their students' use of district laptops and iPads in schools.

At that meeting, parents told the board they were worried about increased screen time, exposure to inappropriate content like pornography and lack of written district policy around technology usage.

Lincoln teachers said after Monday night's meeting that they noticed the infusion of devices into their classrooms, and wanted to thank the district for the learning opportunities the technology offers.

Teachers highlighted students' use of Google Maps to understand latitude and longitude, or their use of their iPads to learn and research questions they come up with in class in order to increase reading comprehension.

"At Lincoln specifically, we are encouraged to implement technology in a way that is engaging, creative and supports future learners," said Lincoln special education teacher Erin Crimmins. "There are millions of ways that technology aids and amplifies my students' learning. Do I believe that technology should be closely monitored? Absolutely. However, with the current training and implementation, technology can and will engage our learners and prepare our students for the future."

Norman students took center stage for the first portion of Monday night's meeting, during which administrators recognized recognized 19 students for achieving a Global Seal of Biliteracy, meaning they're proficient in at least two languages.

The district also recognized about 70 students, ranging from elementary level to high school, who have received a fine arts award or honor this year.

"This level of achievement doesn't happen by accident," said NPS Director of Fine Arts Brad Benson. "We appreciate the combined support of our community, our board of education, our central offices, administration and staff. And congratulations to all fine arts teachers -- all of them had a hand in these students getting here."

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