State Senator Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, recently sent out a Take Shelter Oklahoma memorandum to superintendents statewide, encouraging the continuation of signatures for a petition to create a $500 million bond that would put storm shelters in every school.
Claremore Superintendent Mike McClaren said Dorman’s memorandum is technically against the rules.
The mailing, which asks school administrators and patrons to coordinate a statewide Tailgate Night at high school football games to collect signatures for the petition, is against state law, according to the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.
“I can’t even go to a local football game and encourage the public to vote for a local bond issue,” said McClaren. “I could say ‘we want to remind people to vote for the upcoming bond issue,’ but I can’t tell people how to vote or ask them to sign the petition.”
Julie L. Miller, deputy executive director and general counsel for the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, sent out an email to superintendents Monday, advising that school property and personnel cannot be utilized in this manner.
In the email, she wrote “The Oklahoma State School Boards Association would recommend that school districts seek the advice of retained legal counsel prior to letting any person collect signatures on school premises.”
McClaren said the state legislature could put a vote out for a state bond issue for the storm shelters, but they have chose not to because it falls out of political lines.
“The current makeup of both houses do not want to engage in a bond issue on a statewide basis,” he said.
On Oct. 17, Take Shelter Oklahoma volunteers filed a legal challenge to block Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s rewrite to the ballot title.
Pruitt said in a statement that the reason for the rewrite was because the measure failed to explain how the franchise tax revenues would be used to pay for the storm shelters.
The proposal did not adequately explain that the ballot would bring about a franchise tax on Oklahoma businesses in order to pay back the debt.
The franchise tax would go to the state’s general revenue fund and the state would see a loss if the funds were used to retire a bond debt, he said.
Dorman, a supporter of the initiative petition, said the rewritten version focuses more on the financial aspect of the proposal and not enough on the project’s goal -- protecting children.
Petitioners have until Dec. 16 to secure approximately 156,000 signatures needed to put the issue on the ballot.
McClaren said Claremore schools are adequately built for strong storms, including tornadoes.
“All of the schools have designated secure interiors surrounded by solid concrete walls. Could we still use storm shelters for each of the schools, probably so,” he said.
“I endorse the concept of (storm shelters in every school), I just wish we had a little more time. December is an awfully short amount of time to generate the signatures.”
McClaren will visit with principals on Tuesday to decide if they are interested in supporting the petition. If they are interested, he said the schools’ PTOs may be a source for obtaining the signatures.