Tax Cut Throws Out School Shelter Plan In Tornado-Wracked Oklahoma
After two Oklahoma City elementary schools were demolished by a massive tornado last spring, Republican budget cuts would eliminate a plan to equip schools with storm shelters.
Seven children drowned in the basement of a school in the suburb of Moore after a two-mile wide twister with winds of up to 200 mph hit the school in May.
There is an average of 50 tornadoes in Oklahoma each year, but 60 percent of public schools have no shelter.
Districts can’t afford to pay to install shelters, so they turned to the state for help.
Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, proposed that district take advantage of Oklahoma’s rebound economy and use revenue from a business tax, which is already on the books, to help schools build FEMA-rated tornado shelters.
"It would be nice if every kid in Oklahoma had a safe room to go to," said Bill Pingleton, the superintendent in the rural town of Tushka, where the school and much of the town were leveled by a 2011 tornado.
"I love the idea of having safe rooms in the schools. I wish all schools were like that," Alicia McBane, 35, who has a son is in kindergarten, told the Associated Press.
But state GOP leaders, including Gov. Mary Fallin, snubbed the idea.
"Just adding on a new tax burden on Oklahomans is not the answer," said Republican State Superintendent Janet Barresi, the state’s highest-ranking education official.
Advocates for the shelter proposal are attempting to collect 155,000 signatures to add the measure to the 2014 ballot.
Robert Trammell, the superintendent in Snyder, which has a population of 1,400, said students there have to use hallways and bathrooms for shelter, although they don’t meet federal standards.
Only 685 schools, 38.5 percent, have a shelter or designated area for safety during a tornado. Only 15 percent have FEMA-rated shelters, which are built to sustain winds of 250 mph or more.