The Norman Public School Board of Education unanimously approved a $186 million bond question Monday evening that will go before voters Feb. 12.
The bond would provide improvements at every campus in the district, starting with safety and security upgrades, NPS Superintendent Nick Migliorino said. Highlights of the package include storm shelters at several NPS schools that will double as fine arts spaces, a new Dimensions Academy and expansion of the Nancy O’Brian Performing Arts Center.
“Storm safety is a focus,” Migliorino said. “We want to be efficient with the money the community gives us, and building storm shelters is two-to-three times the amount of a regular space. Our fine arts programs are continuing to grow, so we need to continue providing new and updated spaces for them. It only makes sense for those schools that need both to do both in one area.”
Other items included in the package are maintenance of current facilities, including new carpet, ceiling tiles, paint and furniture for a number of schools, as well as partial roof repairs across the district. Migliorino said the district also would institute a system that rotates and replaces furniture as needed.
“Having nice facilities is also about hiring and retaining the best and brightest teachers when they have a choice, and we know parents have choices,” he said. “Facilities and technology, infrastructure, transportation, they all work together. We’ve been able to do what we’ve done because of our community support, and we don’t get all the funding from the state that we need to do what we know we can do. That was very apparent last [school] year.”
According to Zack Robinson of BOK Financial Services, the bond would potentially increase NPS’ sinking fund millage rate from where it is currently at 24.5 to close to 30. That would mean roughly a $40 property tax increase on a $100,000 home. Robinson said it would be the first time since 2001 that NPS increased its millage rate.
“We solicited input from everyone for a quite long period of time, and it’s very apparent what the expectations are,” Migliorino said. “To meet those expectations, with rising costs, we need to take this step. It’s not something I take lightly, but this is what we need for the safety and security of our students and faculty.
“We always want to be good stewards of the community’s money, and if you look on Main Street [at Norman High], on Stubbeman [at Norman North], all of our elementary schools, we were able to exceed expectations. It’s all about transparency, trust and our track record.”
Due to state statutes, the bond will actually contain two propositions on the Feb. 12 ballot: the first is the bulk of the money for safety/security upgrades (such as securing access points and giving teachers the ability to quickly lock classroom doors), educational materials including new textbooks and technology upgrades, and maintenance. The second, about $3.5 million of the total, is for transportation. That money would be used to bring in some new buses to the fleet and retire those that are near the end of their life cycles, Migliorino said, as well as allow NPS to retrofit older buses with safety technology, such as additional cameras. New routing software would be included in those purchases.
NPS Chief Operating Officer Justin Milner, who presented the proposal to the school board, noted the district identified more than $300 million worth of projects in a school-wide survey, and then prioritized them using an independent demographics study and a survey of parents, teachers and community members, as well as vendor data projections, historical data, statistical models and other information.
He said school enrollment has flattened, which gives NPS an opportunity to add space in multiple schools and move classes out of portable buildings.
“We’ve been very intentional about being transparent, communicating with all of our constituents,” board of education member Dirk O’Hara said. “I want to thank everyone who participated in the surveys and the rankings.”
The bond language would allow NPS to either locate and renovate an existing structure for Dimensions, or build a new one. Migliorino said he’s not sure which route the district would go if the bond is approved, but he expects it could be a bit of both.
He said his vision is that Dimensions Academy, which serves students from across the district who need an alternative educational setting, would be centrally located, with space to expand.