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Gov. Pillen to Nebraska school boards: Lower property taxes, spending

The President of the Millard Education Association says the letter 'crossed a line'
Posted at 8:04 PM, Sep 20, 2023

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Nebraska Governor Jim Pillen is urging school board members to cut property taxes in their districts.

In a letter to school board members a week ago Tuesday, he points to two new laws offering additional state funding as an alternative to local property taxes.

He wrote: "If you are collecting more property taxes this year compared to last while accepting a record increase in state support, you are operating contrary to the intent of the law and to the expectation of Nebraskans."

In an interview, the governor told 3 News Now the legislature passed a "historic" state investment in K-12 education north of $300 million.

"I believe we need to communicate so that everybody understands the intent," he said. "We have an incredible need to educate our kids, but we also have an incredible need to solve our property tax problem."

Several school districts are planning to reduce tax rates, but because of increases in property valuations, would still see more obtained in property tax revenue compared to last year. As the Omaha World-Herald reported on Monday, all 20 Omaha-area school districts plan to lower rates.

Pillen told 3 News Now 97% of the additional state funding to districts should go to property tax relief. The number comes from a new law that caps new property tax revenue at 3% growth, unless 70% of the school board votes to go over, Pillen said.

Tim Royers, president of the Millard Education Association, told 3 News Now that school districts struggle with high inflation and gas costs.

"Physical costs are going up, but also our educators deserve to have increases in pay that represents the work that they're doing," he said. "At the percentages that the governor is insisting our schools spend, it's just not possible to get the resources our schools need or to care for our educators."

Royers said the governor's letter "takes away local control."

"You're always going to see some degree of influence," he said. "But I think this has definitely crossed a line ... It implies that these local school board members don't know what they're doing, that they need to be given orders on what they should be doing."

Pillen said he met with about dozen superintendents yesterday, one of them overseeing a private district. He said they talked about finding ways to "make education more streamlined."

"We talked about a lot of mandates that make no sense (and drive up costs)," he said.

Pillen said that some solutions don't mean "more money and more people."

When you count new funding for special education, Pillen said every school district gets more from the state.

"Some (districts) that are not wanting to acknowledge that have not fully understood what the special education funding is doing," Pillen said.

But not all districts are impacted by the new state laws equally.

"We're just getting started (on property tax relief)," the governor said.

The letter is below.

Pillen letter

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