Commissioners create County Educational Facilities Authority

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James Beaty Managing Editor, Enid News & Eagle, Okla.
·3 min read
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May 3—County commissioners created the Pittsburg County Educational Facilities Authority on Monday — designed to help McAlester Public Schools and other public school districts access money from school bonds quicker.

McAlester Public Schools officials said after the meeting the new authority will allow them to get $23.5 million in funding much sooner than previously expected. The $23.5 million represents the first part of the total $34.9 million MPS bond issue passed by voters in February.

"We had to go through a trust authority," said MPS Superintendent Randy Hughes, of how the quicker access became possible. The bonds were sold April 22.

"This will allow us to fund all of this upfront," Hughes said.

Hughes said MPS will be constructing a new middle school and event center, which will be on the campus of the existing McAlester High School.

"We're excited because we're moving forward," Hughes said. "This is the next step." The hope is to have the funds available by June 30, at the end of the current fiscal year.

Asked when he expects construction of the middle school and event center to be completed once construction begins, Hughes said "They've told us it's a year-and-a-half for construction."

Along with classrooms and labs, the new event center will also serve as a storm shelter. Hughes said it will be for MPS students in the daytime, with from 700-to-800 students in the seventh through 12th grades on the campus.

In the evening, Hughes said MPS will be working with the McAlester/Pittsburg County Office of Emergency Management to see about opening it to the public in case of severe weather.

MPS Assistant Superintendent of Finance Chad Gragg appeared jubilant that the commissioners agreed to create the new educational trust authority. He said this will allow the school to contract different aspects of the job, as opposed to contracting with a general contractor, who would have then subcontracted parts of the job.

"It's an exciting time to be a Buffalo," Gragg said.

Jeff Raley, who is bond counsel for the Floyd Law Firm in Norman, spoke about the new Educational Facilities Authority.

Raley said the trust authority allows the school to issue lease revenue bonds, which enables the school to start on construction with one contract.

What's been approved by the voters is the current issuance of bonds in excess of 60% of the total, he said.

"They will get their money upfront. That's the bottom line," said Raley.

He also said doing the bond this way will be better for property owners, because the amounts of the bond will come on in increments, as needed, instead of coming on for the full amount all at once.

J.C. Leonard, vice president of Stephen H. McDonald and Associates, which is MPS' financial consultant on the bond issue, also attended the meeting for creation of the new educational trust.

Commissioners spent a portion of the group's first meeting on organizational matters.

District 2 Pittsburg County Commissioner Kevin Smith made a motion to elect District 3 Commissioner Ross Selman as chairman of the new county educational authority, with District 1 Commissioner Charlie Rogers vice-chairman, County Clerk Hope Trammell to serve as secretary. The measure passed unanimously.

McAlester attorney Eddie Harper will serve as counsel for the educational authority.

County commissioners indicated they were glad to help MPS.

"It's been a long time since this school has been expanded like this," Rogers said. "This is one they asked us to step in and help out."

Selman spoke of how school districts in the county could also utilize the trust authority.

"Any other school that needs a trust authority, it helps them also," Selman said, referring to public schools in Pittsburg County. "It opens it up for us to help them."

Smith said he was glad to help as well.

"Anything we can do to help school systems, I'm all about it," said Smith.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.