A vote by city councilors in support of a school bond proposal forced Deputy Mayor Wayne Johnson off the sidelines this week on an issue the retired Muskogee Public Schools employee had tried to remain neutral.
Johnson announced his opposition to the $110 million bond proposal, saying he believes too much of the funding is being directed toward athletics. While 31 community stakeholders have been hammering details of the proposal for months, the deputy mayor questioned whether there was adequate analysis of the community’s ability to sustain the indebtedness beyond 10 years.
“I am 100 percent supportive of the school system — it is the life blood of our community,” Johnson said. “But I won’t be able to support this vote, (and) I wanted to let you know why: 34 percent of the funding is going toward athletics.”
District officials say funding from the $110 million proposal, which will be presented to voters on Oct. 8, would “prioritize safety and security, renovate and repair aging school facilities, enhance existing infrastructure and maintain cutting edge technology.” They have described it as “a 12-year lease revenue bond issue that will increase the district millage rate from 20 mills to 32 mills,” raising ad valorem taxes on a real property valued at $100,000 by about $10 a month at its peak.
Johnson said he also has concerns that the bond proposal would extend beyond the traditional 10 years used by the district in the past.
“There has not been an in-depth study on the indebtedness to our community over the 12 years to make sure that it can sustain that along with our transportation,” Johnson said.
Ward II Councilor Dan Hall said he believes Muskogee’s future depends on the outcome of the school bond election. Hall, chief of the district’s campus security, said passage “is the step we have to take to grow our community.”
“If we don’t pass this bond issue, then we are right there on the point of the spear, where we could go one way or the other,” Hall said. “If we don’t vote yes for this, then we are going to be stagnant for another 50 years in Muskogee.”
Hall defended the district’s decision to build up its athletics program, saying he has seen other districts thrive because of an investment in that area. He said if Muskogee is going to become “the community we all want it to be ..., we have got to do this.”
Mayor Janey Cagle-Boydston said while the proposed school bond may sound like "a lot of money, it's not going to cost each one of us very much."
"The figures I have heard, it doesn’t sound like a whole lot of money," Cagle-Boydston said. "The people with the most assets will pay the most, and that is the way it ought to be in my opinion."
Ward IV Councilor Marlon Coleman said many people in Muskogee are excited about the proposal because "for the first time Muskogee is being deliberate and intentional" about taking "education to the level that complements the century in which we live."