By E.I. Hillin and Ray Dyer
On Monday county commissioners agreed to change the fee structure on school bond issues saving the Mustang Public School District $1.2 million.
“It’s a huge win for taxpayers,” said MPS Superintendent Sean McDaniel. “The money can go right back to projects.”
The county commissioners serve as the Educational Facility Trust Authority. Part of their duties under the authority is to issue bonds after bond elections.
“We pay them a fee to serve that purpose,” McDaniel said.
The commissioners adopted a resolution to revise the fee structure. The $1.2 million saved will be over the life of the 12-year-bond issue, which was passed in the February school bond election.
McDaniel said the school district also requested from the Educational Facility Trust Authority, a portion of fees from two prior bond issues to be given back. Those bond issues were from 2009, which was a $60 million issue, and from 2012, which was a $100 bond issue. The total money available from fees could be as much as $750,000.
Commissioners did not move forward with the request yet. Commissioner David Anderson, District 2, wants to return the money to the district in which the debt was incurred, while Commissioner Jack Stewart, District 3, said he was not ready to make the move retroactive to when the county Educational Facilities Authority was created.
The county authority was created in 2009 after an opinion from the Oklahoma attorney general said school districts can use authorities to issue lease revenue bonds as long as they are geographically located within the boundaries of the authority.
The lease revenue approach allows a district to bond a greater amount than is provided for by state statue. Commissioners agreed to revisit the idea of making the policy retroactive.
McDaniel said support for MPS from the community is what makes the district excel. Nearly 3,000 voters showed up to cast their vote for the $180 million bond election.
“People appreciate what they have and they continue to be supportive of the school district,” he said.
While school bonds can pay for things like infrastructure, technology, and textbooks, there are other things bond money cannot be used to purchase. Cuts in state funding continue to increase for schools across the state. Many bills are being debated during this legislative session addressing teacher pay.
“We are in the same boat on how the state funds us,” McDaniel said. “That shows up in things we can’t use bonds on like teacher salary.”
In other matters from the county commissioner meeting on Monday, commissioners heard a request from members of Historic Fort Reno Inc. that the county consider partnering with the organization to help preserve and promote the fort.
David VonTungeln, DVM, former commissioner Phil Carson, County Court Clerk Marie Hirst and Jimmy Johnston attended the meeting seeking support from the commissioners.
Stewart said he had attended a “strategic planning” meeting with members of Historic Fort Reno Inc. He called Fort Reno a “hidden gem” and said commissioners should think about ways “we can work together.”
VonTungeln said Fort Reno partners with Redlands Community College, BlueSTEM Learning Center, the U.S. Cavalry Museum and Association and others in terms of programs. He said the fort recently hosted the Wings to Fly Run that benefits the Children’s Miracle Network.
Johnston said more than 3,000 foreign visitors make their way to Fort Reno annually. Historic Route 66 runs along the south side of the fort, making it a natural for those traveling America’s most famous highway.
State budget cuts have impacted the fort’s Visitors Center. Hirst said funds are needed to hire a director or a part-time director. She said someone is needed who knows how to write grant proposals. Hader said he may know a person who might be interested in such an effort.
Commissioners suggested they may hold a meeting at Fort Reno so they can tour it in an official capacity.
Commissioners decided to seek more bids for replacement of the heating and cooling system for the county building. Two bids were initially received, but they differed by about $300,000, with the low bid being ruled unacceptable because it was incomplete.
Commissioners agreed to re-bid the project with engineering guidelines to make it more exact.
Commissioners are expected to sign a contract possibly by next week with Advanced Network Design of Oklahoma City. The firm will analyze the county’s technology and information system and provide advice on how to improve communications without individual offices giving up their autonomy.