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In an age of sequels, the idea of “MAPS II” intrigues Oklahoma
City Mayor Kirk Humphreys.
For more than five years, Oklahoma City has collected a penny
sales tax to fund the Metropolitan Area Projects. However, the MAPS
tax will end June 30 after a six-month extension approved in
Projects such as a baseball stadium, sports arena and library
learning center highlighted the original MAPS.
Could a second MAPS tax be passed to repair crumbling,
termite-infested public schools?
Humphreys has “given a lot of thought” to that idea, he
acknowledged to The Oklahoman.
“I think you have to take it one step at a time,” the first-term
mayor said. “I think the first thing we need to do is finish MAPS.
“Then, I think we have to look at what’s the next step for
Oklahoma City. I personally believe that the schools are the
biggest issue for us as a city over the next 10 to 20 years.”
Humphreys and some Oklahoma City School Board members have had
“real preliminary discussions” about the MAPS II concept, board
President Kenny Walker said.
” The city is investigating legal issues to see if it can be
done,” Walker said.
“It’s going to take a lot of creativity. I don’t think the city
is prepared to charge a sales tax and then just write the school
district a check.
“It’s very promising,” the board president said. “We’ll just
have to see how it goes.”
City Leader, School Advocate
For now, MAPS II is just a possibility. Any action would be two
years or more away, Humphreys and Walker said.
The present is a $ 47 million bond election that Oklahoma City
School District patrons will decide June 8.
If passed, the bond issue will pay for school repairs,
construction, computers and buses. For the owner of a $ 75,000 home,
property taxes would go up about $ 53 a year.
“We think it’s vital,” Oklahoma City schools Superintendent
Marvin Crawford said of passing the bond issue. “But it’s evident
there’s more to do than we can address, even with a bond issue.”
Crawford called the mayor’s interest in the schools “very
For Humphreys, the best move politically might be to stay out of
the school debate, the mayor said. After all, the city and the
school district are separate government entities with different
But Humphreys is taking a high-profile role in the school
He’s even appearing in television commercials and print
advertisements urging passage of the bond issue.
The mayor’s message is this: Inner-city schoolchildren deserve
the same-quality facilities and opportunities as suburban students.
“It is something I believe in,” said Humphreys, a former
two-term Putnam City School Board member.
“If our city is going to truly thrive, then we need to find a
way for Oklahoma City schools to be restored.”
Humphreys also is serving on the 18-member Education Exploration
Research Project Committee. The committee, part of the private
Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation, recently began a 14-month
study aimed at helping the school district with long-term planning.
While metro area cities such as Edmond and Norman have enjoyed
tremendous growth in sales tax revenues, Oklahoma City has settled
for small increases, Humphreys said.
The reason: the suburban school districts have nicer amenities
and better reputations than Oklahoma City schools, he said. Home
buyers choose school districts that appeal to them, and they tend
to shop close to home.
“I’m not trying to build a school district,” Humphreys said.
“I’m trying to build a city.
“In order to help Oklahoma City, I need to find ways to help
Oklahoma City schools.”
A Small Step?
The bond issue amount – $ 47 million – represents just a chunk of
the district’s actual needs, school officials say.
“This is just a small step in the right direction,” Walker said.
It would take at least $ 200 million to meet Oklahoma City
schools’ “bare-bones” building, technology and transportation
needs, said Terry Wolfe, the district’s business operations director.
“That would bring us up to par,” Wolfe said. “That wouldn’t
allow us to compare favorably with some suburban districts.”
Humphreys said $ 200 million might fix the district’s most
“I think if you really want facilities people are going to be
proud of, you’re looking somewhere north of $ 200 million,” he said.
“You may be looking at $ 300 million – or $ 400 million. We’ll
never know unless we ask the questions.”
Oklahoma limits schools’ bond indebtedness to 10 percent of the
assessed valuation of property within the district. That means the
Oklahoma City district cannot incur more than $ 111 million in bond
About $ 64 million in unpaid bond debt remains from the $ 89.88
million Oklahoma City school bond issue passed in 1993.
That leaves $ 47 million that the district can seek in the June 8
School officials lobbied the Legislature this session to change
the bonding limit and lower the 60 percent “supermajority” required
to pass bond issues. Lawmakers killed both ideas.
“Without a doubt, Oklahoma statutes in general provide a
hardship for making capital improvements in our schools,” Crawford
The Oklahoma City School District is not unique.
In many metro areas across the United States, inner-city schools
are falling apart – victims of years of neglect.
But after two decades of unsuccessful bond elections, many urban
districts have started pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into
restoring their schools.
“In a lot of communities, it really has come to crisis
situations, which is why many cities began to put these (bond
issue) measures on the ballot again,” said Michael Casserly,
executive director of the Council of Great City Schools.
The council is a Washington, D.C.-based association of 52 urban
school districts, including Oklahoma City’s.
“School districts probably are doing a better job of convincing
voters the money would be well-spent and articulating what the
money would go for and what the benefits would be,” Casserly said.
In recent months, at least five urban districts have passed
major bond issues.
In November, school patrons approved a $ 1.51 billion bond issue
in San Diego, a $ 678 million bond issue in Houston and $ 305 million
bond issue in Denver.
A $ 398 million school bond issue passed in Fort Worth, Texas, in
February. In March, Long Beach, Calif., voters approved a $ 295
million school bond issue.
All five school districts are larger than Oklahoma City’s.
Still, the per-pupil spending in each bond issue exceeds the
Oklahoma City district’s bonding capacity.
Oklahoma City’s $ 111 million bonding capacity amounts to $ 2,775
per student, based on an enrollment of 40,000.
By comparison, the other districts’ recent bond issues break
down like this:
– San Diego, $ 10,786 per student;
– Fort Worth, $ 5,169;
– Denver, $ 4,420;
– Long Beach, $ 3,314;
– Houston, $ 3,213.
Oklahoma City’s Crawford said those numbers, obtained in a
survey by The Oklahoman tell the story well.
“I think nearly all states have legislation or statutes that
enable school districts to more properly address capital needs than
in Oklahoma,” he said.
Who Can Help?
To Humphreys, this much is clear: Oklahoma City school buildings
“are entirely inadequate.”
The mayor recently visited Fillmore Elementary School, 5200 S
The teachers and students impressed him. The half-century-old
building did not. Humphreys noticed new ceilings and carpeting
funded by the 1993 bond issue, but much remains to be done, he said.
“Things like windows and doors and that type of thing are really
old and outdated and need to be replaced,” he said. “We all would
like to go to school in facilities that create a good atmosphere
for working or learning.
“Really, they don’t have adequate facilities in Oklahoma City.
It’s not up to par with what they have in districts like Edmond and
Putnam City and Moore. This bond issue won’t fix it, but it’ll be
another step in that direction.”
While many suburban districts pass bond issues nearly every year
or two, just three Oklahoma City school bond issues have passed
“They just got so far behind that they’re behind the power
curve,” Humphreys said. “The state Legislature is not going to bail
them out. The federal government is not going to bail them out.
“So, where can they go if they need more financial help? The
only place they can go is the people of Oklahoma City.”
In a much-publicized venture, the city and the school district
initiated a pilot project last year where more than 2,000 students
rode to school on Metro Transit city buses.
Also, the city donated 3,200 used Civic Center seats for use in
“I think we’re beginning to realize we’re not independent of
each other,” Humphreys said. “We’re linked to each other.”
Big cities will be in trouble if they don’t rebuild their public
school systems, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley told reporters at the
Education Writers Association’s annual seminar in April.
Daley outlined steps he and his management team took to tackle a
$ 1.8 billion deficit, improve student performance and repair aging
“I’m trying to tell mayors we all have to be concerned about
public schools and not be on the sidelines,” Daley said.
However, Humphreys stressed the preliminary nature of the MAPS
The concept might sound simple, but it could be complicated.
For one thing, while the Oklahoma City School District is the
largest school district in Oklahoma City, more than 20 other
districts touch some part of the city limits. Would a dedicated
sales tax benefit all those districts?
Another issue would be oversight and management of the tax.
Would the city council and the school board remain separate
entities? Would the mayor take over the school district, as has
happened in some cities?
“We’re in the looking and research stage,” Humphreys said. “I’m
not going to just throw a bunch of money at a problem and not be
assured it will fix it.”
Luke Corbett, co-chairman of a 120-patron committee that
recommended the $ 47 million bond issue, said he favors a close
working relationship between city leaders and school officials.
“That’s where things will happen,” said Corbett, Kerr-McGee
Corp. chief executive. “They don’t have to be like-minded, but they
do have to be open-minded.
“Shame on us if we let the school district go down the tubes.”
In 1968, when Humphreys graduated from Northwest Classen High
School, it was “the finest school in the state.” When it came to
National Merit Scholarships or state athletic championships,
Northwest Classen was king, he said.
“I don’t know if any urban school district has ever gone down
and made back it back to the top, but I intend to find out.”