By Conrad Dudderar
A new performing arts/career center on the Yukon High School campus headlines a $194 million bond issue package on an upcoming Yukon ballot.
Yukon voters will head to the polls Tuesday, Nov. 9 to consider Yukon Public Schools’ 10-year bond proposal that also would fund an indoor activity facility, elementary school renovations, technology upgrades, new busses, and more. The bond issue must be approved by at least a 60% majority to pass.
The 2021 school bond election highlighted YPS Superintendent Dr. Jason Simeroth’s annual “State of the School” presentation Oct. 14 inside 10 West Main Events.
Bond issues are the “lifeblood” of a school district and provide needed funds to “spend on teachers and kids”, Simeroth told Yukon Chamber of Commerce members at the luncheon.
“You can’t have a district like ours without passing bond issues like this community always has.”
If the Nov. 9 election is approved, there will be no property tax increase because the $194 million in new bond debt over 10 years will be added as previous school bonds are retired.
Property owners would “continue paying what they’re paying,” Simeroth explained.
“For the next 10 years, it stays at a ‘flat’ level. … It’s just continuing the taxes at the level that they are.”
The tax cost of this YPS bond issue would be $112 per year for a home assessed at $450,000.
Here is a brief overview of the proposed Yukon school bond projects:
- Performing arts and college and career center: This estimated $46 million facility on the YHS campus would feature a 1,500-seat auditorium, at least 12 new classrooms with four large labs (medical, aeronautics, broadcast media, and ROTC). YPS has partnered with Southwestern Oklahoma State University on plans to build a 10,000-15,000 square foot “satellite campus” on the west side of the building. This would allow students to stay in Yukon to earn a college degree at one of the state’s lowest tuition rates.
- Elementary school and playground renovations: The Yukon school district’s seven elementary sites would be remodeled – both inside and outside – in this estimated $25 million project. Highlights include carpeting and painting classrooms, new student and teacher desks, interactive technology, and library furnishings. Playground equipment upgrades also are proposed – about $500,000 for each school.
- Indoor activity facility: This new building with turf field on the YHS campus would serve Yukon’s band program, extracurricular activities like Special Olympics, along with school sports that need an inside space.
- YHS Commons expansion: The “commons” area at the high school would be expanded to provide students with a larger space for lunch and more efficient times to eat during the day. This would increase capacity by about 500 students. A career guidance center also is planned.
- Technology and curriculum upgrades: Technology for students and teachers would be enhanced with new instructional software and security systems in every building. Educational resources – like library materials and textbooks – would focus on the needs of all students over the next 10 years.
- Transportation lot improvements: The existing gravel lot at the YPS transportation facility would be paved and building improved to provide a safer work environment and help retain and recruit bus drivers. This proposal is part of a $5 million transportation bond issue that also will fund new school busses and other vehicles.
If approved by Yukon voters in the Nov. 9th election, the new bond funds would be received in June 2022. The first bond projects would be classroom construction starting that summer.
After about one year of planning and design, construction on the new performing arts/career center and indoor activity facility would start in June 2023. That would take 18-24 months to finish.
ENROLLMENT WAY UP
In his “State of the School” talk, Dr. Simeroth referred to this year’s significant student enrollment increase.
YPS enrollment declined from about 8,800 to 8,100 in the 2020-21 school year as some parents decided to enroll their children in other virtual and online schools because of COVID-19 concerns.
YPS officials expected some 8,500 students to be enrolled for the 2021-22 school year and had based staffing on that amount.
With Yukon sites “back open” fully for in-person instruction, enrollment on Aug. 1 grew to 9,156 students – a YPS record.
That left a staffing shortage.
Since then, some 13 new teachers have been hired while 10 vacancies remain.
“We still need more teachers,” Simeroth said.
Many classrooms are full, with more than 25 students. That seems high to some YPS patrons because class sizes were smaller last year due to COVID.
“We have empty classrooms in our district, we just don’t have teachers to put in them,” the superintendent told the luncheon audience. “We are recruiting.
“We want to fill those open spots so we can reduce those class sizes.”
YPS offers among the top five starting teacher salaries across Oklahoma. Some 90% of state funding received by the district is spent on staff salaries.
The Yukon school district will use leftover funds from its 2007 bond issue combined with building fund money to construct nine new classrooms at Surrey Hills Elementary, which has grown significantly.
YPS has repeatedly been voted one of Oklahoma’s “top workplaces” and recently was named a “family friendly” school district, Simeroth pointed out in his 40-minute speech.