Nearly 100 supporters of a proposal to create a new political subdivision to help pay for programs related to school safety and before- and after-school care crowded into a room at the Lincoln Community Foundation on Thursday for the formal announcement.
The city and Lincoln Public Schools are proposing a joint public agency that would use property tax dollars to add six new school resource officers for middle schools, additional funds for student mental health services and for community learning centers that provide before- and after-school programs for students.
Mayor Chris Beutler said the creation of the joint public agency would be one of the most important decisions the community would make for many years.
“Keeping kids safe and secure is the foundation of a strong community,” he said, and it’s a shared responsibility of the city, schools and residents.
Among those at the news conference were 30 people listed as members of the Safe and Successful Kids Community Coalition. They include City Council and school board members, representatives of community agencies and local foundations and other community leaders.
While they are supporters, the board governing the Safe and Successful Kids Community Coalition JPA would be much smaller: three school board members, the Lincoln mayor and two council members appointed by the mayor, as proposed.
All action would require approval by at least two city representatives and two school board representatives, so neither the school nor city could control the JPA.
The JPA would have the authority to levy up to 1 cent per $100 on property within the city limits, raising an estimated $2 million its first year.
The JPA elevates the school safety issue, segregating it into a separate budget that provides for better transparency and accountability, Mayor Chris Beutler said. “This is a perfect use of a JPA.”
A JPA also will help create a more coordinated approach to school safety and support for students, and reduce the chance of redundancy in programming, Beutler said.
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Superintendent Steve Joel said the JPA proposal is the culmination of eight years of work to find a way to support the community learning centers, which provide a safe and nurturing environment for kids.
Korey Reiman, who formed a parent group that has advocated for various safety measures including school resource officers, said he’s grateful to the schools and the mayor, and that no one should doubt the power of community policing and building relationships between officers and students.
“We cannot have a generation of kids who see police as the enemy,” he said. “Resource officers is a great way to avoid that.”
He said little more than handwringing has happened in the five years between the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut and the recent shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, but that’s beginning to change.
“I think there has been a shift in attitude in Lincoln over the past five weeks,” he said. “Us parents, we are the ones who get to decide this. This momentum that we have, if we want more we just have to keep going.”
School board and city officials have said they will try to make sure the addition of the JPA would be tax neutral — meaning no increase in the total tax rate next year for school and city spending. To achieve that goal, LPS and the city, together, would have to reduce their levies by 1 cent.
This is not a promise because both the city and school district are in the beginning phases of budget planning, but is a goal, leaders from both groups have said.
“We would like to keep the levy neutral, said Connie Duncan, a school board member.
Both the Lincoln City Council and the Lincoln Board of Education must approve the JPA and both groups expect to see the JPA issue on their agendas in mid-April.