Wednesday, October 28, 2009
SHOULD A SMALL TOWN BE SPENDING $10 MILLION
IN THIS ECONOMIC CLIMATE?
It's hard to see how people could vote for the massive, $10 million school bond issue that's coming to a head in the central Nebraska town of Ord. But sources say it's going to be a whisker-thin margin, either way. Results of the balloting will be in by mid-November.
A committee made up of pro-school district residents is urging a "yes" vote, claiming that snazzy school facilities will attract new residents to Ord. But an opposing committee has gathered information which indicates that the fire and safety violations at the school that the bond issue is intended to fix could be fixed for much less than the school officials are claiming, and that the nonacademic improvements that would be made, such as the practice gym, are off-target in the economic conditions of now and the foreseeable future.
Ord's student population has dropped to 480 from 515 five years ago, while its spending per pupil per year has increased to $12,817.98, adding five teachers to the payroll. Ord teachers make an average of $45,709 -- great money in that neck o' the Nebraska woods.
The $9.8 million bond issue is being sought to add a practice gym to the 1928 building as the fourth major addition in its history, plus bring various fire and safety features up to code, improve the HVAC system, add an elevator for handicapped access, and expand and modernize facilities.
According to the Nebraska Department of Economic Development (NDED), Ord already provides some of the nicest learning facilities in the state. The teacher-to-pupil ratio is 1:9 in the elementary school and 1:10 in the junior-senior high, and the computer-to-pupil ratio is 1:2. Academic results are average: about three-fourths of the senior class takes the ACT and scores right on the Nebraska average.
Actually, Valley County looks to be one of the richest counties in Nebraska on paper, with an actual valuation per pupil of $614,058, according to the NDED. All those rich farmers!
Valley County actually has one of the lowest averages of household income in the state. Per household, income is measured at $43,000, which is significantly beneath the Nebraska average of $58,000. So there may be wealth in that county, but it's not easily tapped because it's tied up in property. The proposed bond issue would put an extra tax bite on top of regular taxes of $956.20 per year for the typical farmer, according to observers following the issue. Not a good cash-flow situation.
With the concern about the economy, it's questionable whether this is the time to be going into debt to the tune of $10 million, plus interest, over the next 20 years, in a tiny school district with declining enrollment.
One interesting footnote gathered in researching this issue:
According to the Ord district's annual financial report, sent to the Nebraska Department of Education and accessed at http://ess.nde.state.ne.us/ASPX/AFR/AFRDistrict.aspx?codistsch=88-0005-000&datayear=2007/08&id=1, Ord's superintendent of schools makes a salary of $119,012. That comes to $247.94 per pupil per year for his salary alone.
In contrast, the superintendent of the Omaha Public Schools makes $336,805.99 -- $8.08 per pupil.
But no . . . there's nooooooo way Ord could find any way to cut spending and avoid going so deeply into debt. Or is there?
There is a lesson here for all would-be property tax hikers.Many income poor people own half-decent houses that they have paid for all of their lives.Retired people especially tend to be income poor relative to their property valuations.Because people own, say, a $100,000 home doesn't mean they can afford the sky-high, non-competitive property taxes in Nebraska.Post a Comment