Rising interest rates affect SPS 2023 bond

Jan. 25—As Stillwater residents prepare to vote Feb. 14 on a $195 million school bond issue, setbacks like fluctuating interest rates, budgets and inflation have caused the school district to adjust plans, Stillwater Public Schools Superintendent Uwe Gordon said.

SPS is committed to a "no tax" increase bond issue, but keeping that commitment has not been easy.

"My understanding is that we have the highest interest rates since the 1980s," Gordon said. "(Last year), there were increases in March, June, July and December. There could be another (increase) coming soon."

Gordon said that as construction costs continue to rise, each increase cuts into the district's purchasing power.

The notable changes include the actual size and positioning of the new high school, the baseball and softball fields being transposed and slightly repositioned, elimination of a practice field, Franklin Lane continuing through to bisect the campus and changes to the configuration of the southern athletic complex.

"None of our decisions about what to include or not include in this bond issue have been made lightly," Gordon said.

The biggest disappointment for Gordon with the changes is not being able to finish the entire high school campus.

"We are able to complete all of the other sites with one bond issue, but not the high school," Gordon said. "It's frustrating that we can't do more."

Gordon said he wished that the bond issue could provide "more spaces for students to interact, lounge, and learn," in addition to adding classrooms for future growth.

The new high school was originally planned to include 20,000 square feet of space for the SHS Band.

"I will long remember the excited face of a band dad who works in the administration building when he saw the concept floor plan, and the disappointment when he saw it had been removed as construction costs and interest rates climbed," Gordon shared in a Facebook post.

In addition, other school sites and some facility improvements will be placed on hold, including tornado shelters with maximum protection, upgrading or building a new structure for Lincoln Academy, improvements to SJHS and updates to the interior and exterior of the Stillwater Pioneer Virtual Learning Academy.

Gordon had also received questions about paying teachers with the bond issue, but teacher and staff salaries cannot be paid with bond funds.

"I do wish funding allocations from the state would allow all districts to increase teacher salaries," Gordon said.

In addition, the SPS administration building has not been renovated since 1971, and the former Kicker building that currently houses SPS Nutrition and SPS Facilities has never received an update.

"I'm proud that the district puts funds into student facilities first and foremost, but most districts our size have higher quality administration buildings than we do," Gordon said. "Aged structures, decentralized staff, and cramped spaces do not provide an ideal experience for staff, parents or students."

Despite all of the adjustments, Gordon said he's excited about the 1:1 Technology Initiative that the 2023 bond could achieve, along with the curriculum and equipment it will offer.

The current SHS was built 50 years ago, Gordon said.

"When SHS's current location was proposed, the community felt that it was way too far out of town," Gordon said. "Like them, we can't predict the future of what Stillwater will be, but we feel that we have a good vision, and we're confident that the projects in Bond 2023 will help lay the groundwork and flexibility for the continued evolution of the SHS campus and SPS operations."

Stillwater residents will see and hear increased advertisements about the bond on local TV and radio stations in the coming weeks, Gordon said.

Sample ballots for the bond and other elections can be found at https://okvoterportal.okelections.us/Home/Index.