A growing school district in Latimer County hopes Election Day will mean big things for students.
A $1 million bond issue is on the ballot for Red Oak Public Schools. The superintendent of Red Oak Public Schools said they are weathering many storms right now, and you just can't put a price on students' safety.
The issue is actually the third phase of the expansion, with the intent of rolling over the current tax levy and preventing a tax increase. Red Oak voters passed a bond 20 years ago to remodel an elementary school, and later passed another one to remodel the high school. This is the same one that's due to expire in 2022. If the latest bond were to pass, the superintendent said they would remodel the cafeteria into some classrooms and the new cafeteria would double as a storm shelter and active shooter safe space.
“It’ll be cafeteria seating. We will keep the current cooking area that we have, and they will just go through the line and go into the safe room where there will be cafeteria seating is how that will work,” said Bryan Deatherage, superintendent of Red Oak Public Schools. “It’ll be a concrete structure that will be FEMA rated concrete structure.”
They also plan to remodel their AG Show Barn and turn their lobby into a gym.
“We’ve basically listened to our people when they said that they felt like the one bond issue at a time was pretty much all a lot of them could handle,” said Deatherage. “And instead of building totally new structures, trying to remodel everything that we have on campus as cost effective as we could, and that also would enable people to hang onto some of those older buildings like we’ve done with the elementary and high school. Now, you keep the same building, but you give it a new face lift, so to speak.”
Jodie White is a life-long resident, dedicated volunteer, and a former educator with Red Oak Public Schools. White said while there is room for new homes in Red Oak, the school district is already busting at the seams with their 300 students. Now, with COVID-19 calling for social distancing, they need even more space.
"We have outgrown our facilities even for the community to come out and watch Johnny, you know, sing and dance on the stage,” White said.
White said she's concerned about voter turnout because of the pandemic and the summer heat, so she’s encouraging people to at least get a mail in ballot.
“I have grandchildren here. I have, you know, all of my family has been here at Red Oak and graduated,” said White. “I talk to them about, you know, ‘Why do y’all think we should vote?’ You know, ‘What’s your reasoning?’ And it’s like, ‘JoJo, our classes are full. We have to move. I don’t get to be with my friends. They have to be in another classroom.’”
Dylan Fazekas is one of White’s grandchildren. Fazekas said the buildings are outdated and some are falling through, but no kid should fall by the wayside because the population is greater than the small area can handle. His mom is a first-grade teacher, and he attended Red Oak schools from K-12 before graduating in 2013 during phase two of the bond. So, he knows firsthand how these kids feel.
“It’s just a bunch of new moving parts, you know. It would just make more sense to me if they were like expanding the classrooms,” said Fazekas. “You know, those kids get to be in their class with their friends and they have, like I said, a more intimate, one-on-one relationship with their teacher and they can learn better in my opinion that way.”
Fazekas said he hopes the vote is an overwhelming yes, because he thinks the school really needs it.
“In my opinion, they’re outdated. They’re very old. Some buildings are falling through,” said Fazekas. “So, I think it’s pertinent to expand and you know add classrooms on, and especially improving our facilities. There’s a lot of people that want to be in Red Oak, that want to come to Red Oak, they want to be a part of it, and I think there will be more in the future.”
White said there will be an open forum in the campus cafeteria on Thursday to answer any questions residents might have.
“Everyone tells you, 'Oh, the schools the heart of the community,' and we all know it is. We can't argue with that fact,” said White. “You’re hearing the kids holler, ‘Hey.’ Well you know… why wouldn’t you want to vote for those kids? If they’re going to holler at you and wave to you, you know, they’re counting on me to make sure that they get a new cafeteria and new classrooms.”