Tuesday, January 11, 2005
DOES MILLARD NEED THE $78 MILLION?
The latest request for a school tax increase is on the ballot in the Millard Public Schools on Feb. 15, and citizens’ groups have formed to support it and oppose it.
Millard is asking for a $78 million bond issue to build two grade schools and a “nontraditional” high school, buy land for future schools, renovate existing schools, and add technology. With the cost of interest and the additional operating expenses that will be incurred with capital expenditures of that amount, the total tab to Millard taxpayers over time will likely be twice that.
Millard taxpayers have been very generous in the past, going 12-for-12 in previous bond issues in that district. But the latest one, $89 million in 1997, squeaked by with 52 percent of the vote. There have been some notable bond-issue turndowns in the area lately, including in the Omaha Public Schools and the Lincoln Public Schools. So this one will be interesting.
The leader of the opposition group is Paul Meyer. Heading up the “pro” side is Dave Anderson. Public meetings are planned Feb. 2, 5 and 8; check the Millard website, www.mpsomaha.org for details. I’ll try to go to one and report back.
Here are some fun facts gleaned from Millard’s most-recent annual financial report to the State Education Department (http://ess.nde.state.ne.us) that might inform the public debate:
-- Local property taxes yielded $62.2 million for Millard. Its budget was $134.1 million. Well over half of Millard’s spending is coming from taxes and other revenues besides property taxes. If they want to add infrastructure which will certainly increase spending, how come the rest of us, who don’t live in Millard, don’t get to vote?
-- Millard has said it expects to enroll 3,500 new kids in the near future because of new neighborhoods being built. With additional enrollment come large amount of additional state aid and federal funding. That additional revenue must be factored in. It’s certainly not up to Millard property taxpayers alone to carry that load. Maybe there’s another way to afford growth than raising people’s property taxes.
-- Millard’s average daily attendance is 18,185 pupils. But its “annual membership,” the total enrollment that it reports to the state to collect state aid, is 20,371. That’s 2,186 kids we’re paying for who aren’t there. Absenteeism of 11 percent? Where are they, at the bowling alley? Addressing this discrepancy would help a lot.
-- There’s also talk that the eastern schools in Millard are under-enrolled and that the new enrollment could flow to under-utilized schools instead of building new ones. Let’s see some numbers on that.
-- Divide the $78 million in the proposed bond issue by the 18,185 kids who come to class on an average day, and you get $4,289.25 apiece. That would buy an awful lot of No. 2 pencils. Could there be a better way to allocate the more than $7,000 per pupil per year that’s being spent now, so that another $4,289.25 apiece wouldn’t be necessary?
-- Millard’s total tax receipts in the most recent year reported were $134.1 million. Teacher salaries cost $45.2 million. That means Millard spent only about one-third of its operating budget on teacher salaries. Nearly $89 million went for other things. Remember when teacher salaries were said to be 70 to 80 percent of the typical school district’s expenses? And when teachers were “the heart of the district”? What are they now . . . the shinbone?
-- You hear that Millard is the richest school district in the state in terms of per-capita income, or if it’s not there yet, it soon will be. So, you’d think, there must be scads more taxable property in that district than most anywhere else, and those rich property owners can stand a little old tax increase. But think again. Divide Millard’s assessed valuation of $6.85 billion by its total fall enrollment, 20,371. That comes to $336,262.33 in taxable property per pupil. You know how the Omaha Public Schools is thought to be hard up for cash? Its property-per-pupil is almost the same, $320,092.81. Meanwhile, District 66 sports $455,919.82 per kid, and Lincoln Public Schools weighs in at $414,657.58. They have 25 percent more wealth per pupil, in other words. Maybe those Millard taxpayers aren’t driving Bentleys and wearing ascots the way the pro-bond issue PR suggests they are. Is this another smarmy case of “let’s tax ‘em and get the money, just because we can”?
Hey, I know how I’d vote. But I don’t live in that district. Let’s hear it from some of you Millard citizens: what’s the real deal, and what are you going to advise your fellow voters?
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