Land-locked school districts facing budget...

Posted at 10:56 PM, Mar 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-09 23:56:32-05

Major school districts across the metro face tough decisions on what to cut as they deal with tighter budgets.

Westside and Millard schools are looking at multi-million dollar gaps, the same issues Bellevue public schools dealt with last year.

“We don't have a choice but to live within the budget we're given,” said Bellevue Public Schools Superintendent Frank Harwood.

Property taxes are what make up a lot of public schools’ budget. The other portion comes directly from the state.

Harwood said property taxes have stayed steady over the past few years as expenses keep rising.

“Property taxes are the only avenue that schools have for raising funds,” said Harwood.

According to Open Sky Policy, Nebraska ranks 49th nationally in the percentage of state-support for schools. The current formula relies heavily on local property taxes.

That’s a problem for land-locked districts like Bellevue because they don’t have any room to grow.

“Our enrollment is flat and we don't have areas for more building,” said Harwood.

It’s the same position Westside is in. Earlier this week the school board had a meeting discussing over 4-million dollars in cuts.

“As a land-locked district, with aging infrastructure knowing that many of our homes and the commercial evaluation we have, with properties that were built in the 50s and 60s the lifespan will start to flip over. We have no farmland within Westside community school District 66 so new development can't really happen,” said Westside board president Scott Hazelrigg.

Bellevue went through this same budget-cutting process last year, eventually chopping off over 4-million dollars as well.

“Even using the states' funding formula for needs, our resources are not keeping up,” said Harwood.

Harwood said lawmakers in Lincoln need to change the school-aid formula which hasn’t been updated since the 1990s to increase state-aid for land-locked districts like his.

“We have a really good product, and now the argument is how to you pay for that,” said Harwood.

The Millard school district is also facing a budget challenge. They said most of their land is developed so they do not have a large number of houses with property taxes coming on the tax roll. They’ve had several years of flat property taxes and they lost $5.6 million dollars in anticipated state aid.