Oklahoma City REALTORS® Improve Public Schools & Prevent Urban Flight

Oklahoma City REALTORS® Improve Public Schools & Prevent Urban Flight

February 2017

Public schools in Oklahoma were struggling.  Nationally, the state ranked 49th in per capita spending for education, and in Oklahoma City, the public school district received a grade of “F” from the state.  As any Oklahoma City REALTOR® could tell you, the resulting flight from the public schools was already having a detrimental impact on local communities, and would eventually threaten the economic viability of the city itself.  But things are looking up:  in the November election, citizens voted in favor of a $180 million bond to pay for school building maintenance, technology, and transportation.  Aided by an Issues Mobilization Grant from the REALTOR® Party, the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Association of REALTORS® (OKCMAR) led the coalition that supported passage of the bond.

Gary Jones, OKCMAR’s Government Affairs Director, explains that cuts to the school budget were a result of Oklahoma’s economic downturn caused by the decline in oil prices.  “Our school year begins August 1, and our schools were struggling without functioning air conditioning, let alone a dependable fleet of buses or any new technology in the classrooms,” he says.  “The need was huge, but so was the challenge of tacking a bond measure on to a presidential election ballot, when voters tend to dismiss such expenditures with a ‘no’ at the polls.”

Raising awareness among the voting public was going to be key.  Although the proposed school bond would not affect property taxes or millage, and initial polling was encouraging, the coalition formed by the Chamber of Commerce to improve the state of the school system didn’t have much time to get the word out.  Maintain OKC Schools, as the group is called, planned an energetic campaign to approve the bond, and OKCMAR took the lead by tapping in to the REALTOR® Party’s Issues Mobilization Grant program.

The grant process, says Jones, was not only user-friendly, but helpful:  “The level of detail required by the application caused the coalition to re-think its campaign strategy as it determined the best way forward,” he says.  NAR’s Campaign Services team provided valuable feedback on the proposal created by the local firm retained by OKCMAR to design the campaign.  “We were very grateful for the funding and for that expertise!” says Jones. 

The grant from the REALTOR® Party was used for a highly targeted direct mail program, focusing on voters who had supported school bonds in the past, and reminding them about the current measure on the ballot.  “We got lucky in that the measure was placed on a separate ballot, which happened to be printed on yellow paper,” notes Jones, explaining that the ‘YES the Yellow Ballot’ slogan with an image of a school bus made for powerful campaign branding.  OKCMAR engaged its members in a compelling get-out-the-vote campaign, and many brokers posted bright yellow signs outside their offices.

The bond measure was issued as three separate ballot initiatives: school building maintenance, technological enhancements and transportation equipment.  Although all three passed, the votes were close enough to show Maintain OKC Schools that its efforts were essential to the victory.  “We’re now working to create change on the School Board,” says Jones.  “With the bond resolution in place, we’re optimistic that the right leadership can bring about the transformation we need for Oklahoma City’s schools.”

To learn more about how Oklahoma City REALTORS® are helping to improve their region’s school system with the help of the REALTOR® Party, contact Gary Jones, OKCMAR’s Government Affairs Director, at 405-641-1921.

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