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TPS seeking $17.3 million for transportation needs
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TPS seeking $17.3 million for transportation needs

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Memorial High School Principal Rebecca Grooms is pretty proud of the programs offered at her school.

She also knows that those programs have little value to her students if they do not have a reliable way to access them.

“We can offer programs all day long, but without offering transportation too, we’re limiting who can participate,” she said.

Proposition 3 of Tulsa Public Schools’ $414 million, five-year bond proposal would provide $17.3 million for transportation needs, including $1.2 million for small buses specifically for student programming at secondary campuses across the district.

About 10% of Memorial’s 900-plus students are taking classes at Tulsa Technology Center. The school is also one of two TPS sites set to launch the Earn a Degree: Graduate Early program this fall in partnership with Tulsa Community College.

EDGE students at Memorial and McLain will potentially be able to graduate with both a high school diploma and a debt-free associate’s degree, which requires attending classes at both their high school and, starting their sophomore year, a TCC campus.

As Grooms pointed out, many of the students in those programs would not be able to participate if left to find their own ride back and forth from their high school campus to TCC or Tulsa Tech.

“If they didn’t provide transportation, we would have very little participation,” she said. “Not due to lack of want, but I have students from single parent households or who just flat out don’t have cars. With the route EDGE students will need to go to TCC, the city bus is simply not an option.

“Without the district providing transportation, we might as well not offer the program because only maybe five kids would be able to participate.”

The need for reliable transportation is not just limited to students seeking post-secondary opportunities.

Memorial currently has a red van parked on campus that is meant to be used by student organizations and classes for school-sanctioned trips, such as college visits, conventions or competitions. However, it is unable to go very fast and the door handles do not always work, making it an unreliable option.

Instead, groups like the school’s Student Council regularly have to make alternate arrangements for trips and events, such as requesting a full-sized school bus weeks in advance or leaving it up to students to secure their own transportation.

“There are so many things that we can’t do right now because of transportation issues,” Grooms said. “We wanted to do a program where our students went to elementary schools and read to the kids. That’s the kind of thing that we could do with a smaller bus.”

The proposition also includes $7.8 million that would go towards replacing 13 regular sized buses annually for the length of the bond. The new buses would run on compressed natural gas rather than diesel, thus further reducing the district’s emissions footprint while cutting fuel costs.

Jorge Robles, the district’s Chief Financial and Operating Officer, said approval of the proposition would allow the district to maintain its established cycle for replacing out buses in order to keep maintenance costs manageable while minimizing the wear and tear on the rest of the fleet.

“With buses that are too old or not properly replaced over time, what you have is a significantly higher maintenance cost,” he said. “You also have a higher risk for a greater frequency of buses being out of circulation because they’re needing to be worked on. That in turn impacts services, as that means there aren’t as many buses available for field trips or athletics.”

Additionally, the proposition includes $6.8 million to replace outdated district fleet vehicles and buy spare bus parts, such as tires and lights, for routine maintenance needs.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to safety,” Robles said. “No one wants to put our kids on clunky old buses that break down on the middle of the highway and not be able to make it to school. That’s part of the intent of our transportation services to make sure our kids get to and from school safely.”

As per state law, school bond proposals require a supermajority of the votes cast in order to pass. Should TPS’ bond package be approved, it would not raise property tax rates. Instead, it would replace the 2015 bond, which is scheduled to be retired in August.

The voter registration for the June 8 election closed on Friday. Absentee ballot requests must be received by 5 p.m. on June 1. Early voting is scheduled for 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on June 3-4.

Featured video:

Video from May 13, 2021. Roger Thompson, Senate appropriations chair, and Kevin Wallace, House appropriations chair, answer the question

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My primary beat is public education. I am a third-generation graduate of Oklahoma State University, a board member for Oklahoma SPJ and an active member of the Native American Journalists Association.

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