FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Mark Nestlen (405) 850-9571
Shelter Oklahoma petition drive kicks off
to provide shelters in public schools statewide
Initiative petition seeks to put
Issue on statewide ballot
OKLAHOMA CITY (Sept. 18, 2013) — Joined by students, educators and parents, an initiative petition drive officially launched today seeking a statewide vote on providing storm shelters in Oklahoma public schools.
The petition drive, dubbed Take Shelter Oklahoma, comes four months after a spate of May tornadoes killed 47 people. On May 20 alone, a twister destroyed two schools in Moore and took the lives of seven children at one of them, Plaza Towers Elementary.
The initiative petition calls for a statewide vote on a program by which shelters would be paid for via a $500 million bond issue. The bond issue would be funded by the state’s existing franchise tax.
State Rep. Joe Dorman, a member of the steering committee, said the move is necessary because numerous school districts have limited bonding capacity and already must make difficult choices with the resources they have.
“Protecting children is the responsibility of every Oklahoman,” he said. “Parents deserve the peace of mind that their kids at school can have sufficient shelter during life-threatening weather. In this region of the nation, that is far from a hypothetical situation.”
The petition will be circulated beginning this week. Supporters will collect signatures at locations throughout the state, including the Oklahoma State Fair and Friday night high school football games.
Anyone interested in circulating a petition in his or her area can phone Take Shelter Oklahoma at (405) 470-7925 or email TakeShelterOklahoma@gmail.com. A copy of the petition is available for download at TakeShelterOk.com.
Time is of the essence. Take Shelter Oklahoma has 90 days from today to collect signatures of nearly 160,000 registered Oklahoma voters.
At a Wednesday, Sept. 18, news conference at the Oklahoma State Capitol, Dorman was joined by a number of supporters, including Mikki Davis, whose 8-year-old son Kyle was among those who died at Plaza Towers.
“Oklahoma schools desperately need storm shelters,” she said. “No mother should fear if her child will come from school alive. I will do everything I can to see that parents have an opportunity to let their voice be heard on this.”
Dorman noted that the bond issue would not increase taxes by even a penny because it will be funded through an existing tax.
“If we left this solely to local school districts, scores of communities would have no option but to raise property taxes,” he said. “This is absolutely a win-win for the people of Oklahoma, particularly our youngest and most vulnerable generations.”
Kathy Turner, the chairwoman of Take Shelter Oklahoma and a former Oklahoma School Superintendent of the Year, said the bond issue is vital to ensure the safety and security of schoolchildren living in the nation’s “Tornado Alley.”
“After the May 3, 1999, tornado swept through the Bridge Creek community, I ran the morgue out of the school. It was the worst time of my life,” she said. “The dead were friends, neighbors and coworkers. Death is blasphemous in a school. With Take Shelter Oklahoma, death from tornadoes will become a thing of the past.”
Under the petition, a $500 million bond issue would allow Oklahoma school districts to possibly leverage Federal Emergency Management Agency dollars for a 3-to-1 match, depending on federal guidelines and available dollars. Since the program can be renewed in the future, districts that already have adequate shelters would receive the benefit in future years as new construction occurs.
“I see this issue as similar to an insurance policy,” said Dorman. “You hope you never have to use it, but you are sure glad you have it when catastrophe strikes.”
That approach might be a chief reason why the 2015 International Building Code, developed by the International Code Council, requires that newly built schools have storm shelters able to withstand winds up to 250 mph.
According to a SoonerPoll.com survey in June, more than 87 percent of respondents support requiring primary schools to have a specifically designed storm shelter.
If Take Shelter Oklahoma is successful, the governor will set a date placing the issue on a statewide ballot.