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LPS district office

Lincoln Public Schools district office. 

Lincoln Public Schools could float a bond issue between $250 million and $290 million without raising the tax rate, the advisory group reviewing the district’s building needs learned Thursday.

The amount will give the superintendent’s advisory group — nearly 100 community and LPS staff members — a framework to decide how many schools and other facilities it should recommend the district include in its next bond issue request in 2020.

In 2014, voters approved a $153 million bond issue and in 2006 they approved a $250 million bond issue — at the time the largest in LPS history.

As expected, the amount won’t be enough to pay for all the needs the district has included in the proposed update to its 10-year plan.

That plan carries a $334.2 million price tag and includes three or four new elementary schools, a new middle school, at least one new high school, a new athletic complex and the addition of geothermal heating and cooling systems in two schools.

And those top priorities don’t include two more “tiers” of less-pressing needs, which total an additional $227.2 million and $77.7 million in ongoing upkeep and maintenance.

The advisory group is looking primarily at the top needs — as well as infrastructure needs such as roof replacements — and will issue its recommendations to the superintendent by Sept. 1.

One of the biggest questions is whether to build one large, comprehensive high school or two smaller high schools, though there are also thorny questions about how to relieve overcrowding in elementary and middle schools in both the north and south parts of town.

And while the Lincoln Board of Education will ultimately decide what to include on the next bond issue request, they have in the past been largely based on the recommendations of the advisory groups.

The dollar figure has been a big question mark for the group, which will likely have to decide which of those priorities it thinks the district can live without for the next seven years.

The $250 million-$290 million range is based on the amount the district thinks it can issue without raising the tax rate, a model LPS has used for at least the last two bond issues.

It will be able to do that because in 2020, $12.6 million of LPS’ existing bond debt will “roll off” the books, giving the district the chance to add new bond debt without raising the tax rate, said Liz Standish, associate superintendent for instruction.

LPS will finish paying bond debt it incurred in 2000 to build North Star and Southwest high schools and a portion of the debt from the 2014 bond issue, which was used to build Wysong Elementary, Moore Middle School and renovate a building used for a behavioral skills program.

If the advisory group — and ultimately the school board — follows that model, the tax rate needed to pay off LPS’ existing bond debt would remain at 16.1 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation. That’s just a portion of the taxes levied by the district: it also has a general fund tax rate and one for the educational service unit that supports the district.

The school district’s total tax levy comprises more than 60 percent of a Lincoln homeowner’s tax bill and was $1.224 per $100 of assessed valuation in 2018-19. That meant the owner of a $182,400 home in Lincoln paid $2,232 to support the school district.

To come up with the price range for a new bond issue, LPS officials estimated that property values in the county would rise between 5%-8%, Standish said. That means homeowners could still see their taxes go up, even if the tax rate remains unchanged.

The bonds would be financed over 25 years, Standish said. The amount of money is based both on the length of financing and interest rates. LPS can only estimate what the interest rate is, and the $290 million is based on present-day rates; the $250 million on rates 1.5% higher.

Ultimately, the committee looking at the price tag will need to decide how much of that should be used for new construction and how much for upkeep of existing buildings.

The group also asked LPS officials to explore price ranges based on slightly different tax rates and financing schedules.

Breaking down Lincoln's public schools

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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