Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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December 17, 2013

Plan for school shelters thwarted by Okla. tax cut

(Continued)

Supporters of the shelter proposal, including teachers and families of children killed in the suburban Moore tornado, are trying to collect 155,000 signatures to put the question on the 2014 ballot. Organizers said they were about 40,000 signatures short by Monday's deadline, but have asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court for additional time.

Oklahoma is dead center in the Great Plains corridor known as tornado alley. Every spring when twister season arrives, school children follow a familiar ritual of filing to interior hallways, gymnasiums or — in the more affluent districts — reinforced shelters for state-mandated storm drills.

At the new Ronald Reagan Elementary School in Norman, a fast-growing college town in one of the wealthiest counties, every fourth classroom has been outfitted as a shelter with steel-reinforced concrete walls, no windows and a solid steel door.

Parents say the rooms ease their fears.

"I love the idea of having safe rooms in the schools. I wish all schools were like that," said Alicia McBane, 35, who was selling T-shirts at a recent PTA benefit at the elementary school, where her son is in kindergarten.

At another elementary school in Norman, Truman Primary, children take shelter in a gymnasium with concrete walls designed to withstand winds of 250 mph.

But many more schools in Oklahoma, where median income ranks 36th in the nation, are in WPA-era buildings in rural districts.

"Safe rooms are a tremendous cost when you don't have the support and the growth for bond issues," said Robert Trammell, the superintendent in Snyder, a ranching town with 1,400 people, about the same size it was in 1940. The town has three schools built in the 1930s and one in the 1950s. A twister killed 97 people in Snyder in 1905.

After budget cuts during the recession, the district is still retrenching. It dropped the wrestling program this year.

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