From The Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY — A group that supports building storm shelters in Oklahoma public schools launched a signature-gathering campaign on Wednesday for a $500 million bond issue to fund the initiative.
Take Shelter Oklahoma filed a petition with the Oklahoma Secretary of State's office to place the issue on a statewide ballot. Once the ballot language is given final approval by the attorney general, supporters have 90 days to gather about 155,000 signatures of registered voters.
The plan calls for the debt service on the bond issue to be paid by the annual franchise tax levied on businesses.
"Our purpose here is to help children, not politicize children or exploit children, but to take care of the children in Oklahoma," said Kathy Turner, chairwoman of Take Shelter Oklahoma, said at a news conference following the filing of the petition.
Turner said there is a critical need for storm shelters in Oklahoma schools. Turner, who was the superintendent of Fletcher Public Schools for eight years before her retirement in 2011, said her first experience with the need was in 1999, when she was an administrator at Bridge Creek Public Schools and tornadoes touched down near the school, killing several people.
Oklahoma is a part of what some call Tornado Alley, a large swath of middle America where tornadoes are most likely to occur.
She said it's not a question of if there will be tornadoes in Oklahoma, but a question of when and where and how destructive.
"It's not a matter of if there's going to be damage. It's a matter of how much destruction, how many people injured and how many people killed. Every year," she said.
The campaign comes four months after seven children were killed in May by a tornado that slammed into Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore. Among the supporters are parents of three of the children killed.
Mikki Davis, whose 8-year-old son Kyle was killed by the May tornado, said she, like the other parents who lost children, assumed schools were safe. Currently, some schools have shelters, but others rely on taking cover in hallways or other campus buildings such as gymnasiums.
"But they were not," she said. "Our seven children paid the ultimate sacrifice that day because no one wanted to help make schools safe, especially when we live in a tornado-active state."
Supporters of the initiative will gather signatures at the Oklahoma State Fair, high school football games, shopping malls, churches and at the OU-OSU football game.
The bond issue would not increase taxes because it will be funded through an already existing tax. School districts would design the shelters and submit plans to the Department of Emergency Management to see if they are able to receive matching federal dollars, said Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs.