EDUCATION WATCH BLOG
Feb. 9, 2015
Oklahoma City Public Schools board members say they learned about a city plan to extend the period for redirecting downtown tax revenue away from schools and other purposes only after the City Council voted to go ahead with evaluating the plan.
That council vote came on Jan. 27. During the meeting, an official from the organization that helps develop the city’s economic-development plans told council members that she spoke with school district officials and they supported the proposal, which would create two new downtown tax-increment financing districts. The council voted 8 to 1 to establish a review committee.
But school board President Lynne Hardin and members Laura Massenat and Phil Horning now say no one from the city approached them before the Jan. 27 vote. They added they don’t have enough information to determine whether they support the taxing districts.
TIF districts are used to redirect tax revenue to promote economic development in those districts. One of the proposed TIFs would be used to build a parking garage and hotel to go along with a planned convention center.
Oklahoma City schools leaders have said they need more funding to improve academic performance.
Minutes before the Jan. 27 vote, Cathy O’Connor, executive director for the Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City, which helps work on the city’s economic development plans, told the council she spoke with school district officials and they favored the proposal.
On Monday, O’Connor told Oklahoma Watch that she only spoke to district Chief Operating Officer Rob McKinley. She said she told the council that that one person supported the TIF districts.
However, a YouTube video posted on the city’s page shows that O’Connor said at the council meeting, “We had very positive discussions with all of the taxing jurisdictions, especially with the school district. They were very supportive when we met with them about a week ago.” Other jurisdictions include the county, career tech and libraries.
Councilman Ed Shadid, the only one who voted against creating the review committee, said he recalled her using the plural tense. “She never said that she only spoke to one gentleman,” he said.
Shadid added that McKinley resigned the week before the council voted.
“Don’t you think you should say something, that the one person we’ve spoken to has resigned?” he said. “Nobody talked to us.”
O’Connor said she operates under the assumption that district officials she talks with are authorized to make statements of support on behalf of their organization. She then takes that message to the council.
O’Connor said she didn’t speak with Superintendent Rob Neu and board member Massenat until last Friday. On Monday, Massenat said she has not made up her mind on the proposal.
The school board is scheduled to discuss TIFs during a special meeting Tuesday.
Neu was not available for comment Monday.
Shadid said the school district and other taxing jurisdictions affected by any decision should have been notified well before the TIF proposal came to the council. He said the school district will have little opportunity to study the financial impact of the TIFs or gather feedback from constituents.
“You’re creating a process where you have the shortest public awareness,” Shadid said. “Why, when the implications are so profound and the money is so substantial?”
Under the proposal, the new TIF districts would lie within the city’s existing downtown TIF, which is in its 11th year and includes some of the city’s most valuable real estate. Creating the two new TIFs would allow for diverting tax revenue for another 25 years.
The TIF proposal is expected to come back to the council in the next 30 to 60 days for final approval, Shadid said.
While the school board will have a representative on the committee reviewing the TIF proposal, only the council gets to vote.