School Storm Shelter Bill Held Up In Senate

Friday, May 16th 2014, 6:34 pm
By: News 9

Only one bill now sits at the capitol to help put storm shelters in schools.

The bill is Governor Fallin's plan that calls for a one-time bond increase for school districts, but after months of smooth sailing, the bill is being held up.

The same discussion continues. Just about everyone agrees shelters need to be in schools, but who's going to pay for those shelters? That's when people continue to disagree.

"We've grown by almost 600 students... Our vision would be to add additional classroom space and would be dual purpose," Stillwater Superintendent Dr. Ann Caine said.

Plans are already in place for Dr. Caine if and when her district is allowed a one-time bonding capacity.

"We would take it to the voters... and then do a short payoff maybe five to seven years," Dr. Caine said.

But that plan, along with the only bill left at the capitol that addresses school storm shelters, is on hold.

"It would be very scary... I think it would raise that level of concern of how do we keep our students safe while in school," Dr. Caine said.

"It's the only thing on the table, for us not to take this up is wrong," Representative Mark McBride said.

After passing through the House with ease, Representative McBride, the bill's author, has since watched his bill be held-up in the Senate committee with opposition from John Collison and the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, who say raising property taxes is not the way to pay for shelters.

"For our folks out west who are in a drought, we can't add more to our bottom line," Farm Bureau's John Collison said.

So Collison is calling for schools to seek out private funds from charities like the Red Cross, which has donated $10.3 million for shelters and non-profits like Shelter Oklahoma Schools, which has already funded seven school shelters. The Farm Bureau has donated around $100,000 to Shelter Oklahoma Schools.

"Why are we not exhausting those funds first, and then if we need to, we can go out and look at it again," Collison said.

For Stillwater and the state, options are thin.

"We'd like to vote on it up or down, whichever way it goes," Representative McBride said.

"For many communities, this bill is the only leverage they need to create these safe spaces," Dr. Caine said.

While the bill is officially still held up in committee, McBride and Collision expect the bill to be released and voted on sometime next week in the senate.

Currently, 31 districts sit at or near bonding capacity.

If the bill makes it through the Senate and voters approve the bill in November, it will need a 60 percent vote within each district.