A Call to Arms: LB 974 Not the Answer for our Public Schools

published February 17, 2020

Fellow Stakeholders of South Sioux City Community, Ponca Public and Homer Community Schools,

This week a bill introduced by State Senator Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, LB 974, will be debated on the unicameral floor.  This bill is currently the  legislatures’ main property tax proposal. We support the concept of property tax relief, but this measure is not the answer. The future of our children is at stake. This bill creates a worrisome scenario and bleak future for our area and state public school districts. The bill in its current form would slowly eliminate the funding necessary to maintain the high quality public education required for all our students to graduate career ready. The bill is built around projected state revenues which are not guaranteed and could change greatly.  Over time, provisions in the bill will reduce our schools’ property tax revenue by more than we would gain in state aid while also tightening the limits on school property tax levies. The ability to offset that loss in our districts would not be possible. Drastic educational cuts would need to be made or tax levy overrides imposed on taxpayers.

 In some cases, such as with South Sioux City Community Schools specifically, our levy is at the maximum allowed.  We have been prudent with our budget.  South Sioux City Community Schools is a unique district.  We have one of the lowest property valuations in the state, even though we are one of the 20 largest school districts in terms of student enrollment.  Our current district valuation is just over $1 billion.  Taxing at the maximum of $1.05 in the general fund, we receive just under $11 million in property taxes each year.   Our current student enrollment is 3,869 students.  Collectively, our local taxpayers pay around $2,800 per student educated in our district.  The average cost to educate a student in the state of Nebraska is upwards of $12,600.  South Sioux City Community Schools depends heavily on State Aid to make up the difference between what our local taxpayers can pay towards education and the actual cost to educate a student.  As a district, we are aware of the tax burden placed on local farmers and other property owners.  We support additional State funding for education that would provide property tax relief.  However, in its current form, LB974 reduces the district’s ability to collect revenue locally and does not provide an equal increase in State Aid to offset the loss of local property tax.  Over a three year period, the district would lose over $1.7 million dollars in revenue.   This loss is not unique to our district, but would also affect other neighboring school districts as shown in this table verified by the legislature.  

Projected LB974 Implications in PDF

Another bill, LB 1202 is equally alarming. It would allow state/public taxpayer dollars to be used to support private and parochial schools. Funds would be taken from the Nebraska State General Fund, relied on for public school funding, and be redistributed based on student choice of attendance. Our taxpayer funds would travel with the child in allotted amounts determined by the state to fund the school of their choosing, not of the taxpayer’s choosing. Many of the private schools that would receive students and their attached funding are not required to provide the transparency, level of assessment, accountability or levels of equity in curriculum that is provided for “all” students in our public schools with elected board governance. Left behind, with reduced resources, would be the students who choose to attend their public school or need the diverse services and offerings available in our great public schools and not required in the private schools.

We urge you to reach out to your Senator in an effort to defeat both of these catastrophic measures related to the public education of our children and prudent use of our taxpayer dollars in the school district that you fund through taxes.  We can find tax relief together but these two mandates will not provide sustainable, sensible routes to relief while maintaining quality schools or ensure our taxpayer dollars remain in the public school we intend to fund.

 With Respect,

Todd Strom, Superintendent of South Sioux City Community Schools
Jody Phillips, Superintendent of Ponca Public Schools
Greg Cruickshank, Superintendent of Homer Community Schools