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Lincoln Public Schools officials made the case Tuesday for a special mail-in bond election Feb. 11, a scenario they say would allow the district to start work in the spring and save millions of dollars in construction costs.

The Lincoln Board of Education considered that proposal — and asked a host of questions — at the first of six work sessions where board members will try to whittle $461 million in recommendations down to the $250 million to $290 million available for a bond issue without raising the tax rate.

LPS officials said the board also could hold a bond election during the May 12 general election, a timeframe that would give the board more time, but would cost the district the benefit of an earlier construction schedule.

The past two bond elections have been special elections in February.

If the board chooses to do that again, it would have to adopt a resolution by Dec. 23. The last work session is scheduled for the end of November, so that means the board would have to settle on a resolution by that session — or call another meeting — to allow for two readings on the resolution.

Before that, however, there’s lots of work to do.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” said board president Lanny Boswell. “There are two key questions, how big will the bond issue be and what projects are in it?”

The Superintendent’s Facility Advisory Committee, a group of about 100 community members, staff and students, made recommendations totaling $461 million that include building two smaller high schools, two K-8 schools and three elementary schools.

The cost of the new buildings alone total $291 million.

Months earlier, district officials had made their own recommendations totaling nearly $370 million that included either one or two high schools, three or four elementary schools and a middle school.

The district’s recommendations offered some alternatives: Adding on to Kloefkorn and Wysong elementary schools rather than building a new elementary school in southeast Lincoln, and building one large high school or two smaller ones.

The advisory committee landed on building two smaller high schools for 1,000 students apiece to accommodate growth in both the northwest and southeast corners of the city. The buildings would have core facilities, so classroom space could be expanded in the future to hold 2,000 students.

Among the questions board members raised Tuesday was how smaller high schools would affect the district’s longstanding open-enrollment policy that allows students to attend any high school, regardless of their home attendance area.

Board members also asked the district to look at altering boundaries to help reduce overcrowding and delay the need for as many new schools. Officials told the board they’d already begun that process.

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The configuration of elementary and middle schools is among the biggest differences between the recommendations of the advisory committee and the district.

The advisory committee recommended building three new elementary schools in southeast, northeast and northwest Lincoln, along with K-8 schools in south and northwest Lincoln — but no middle school.

The district recommended a new middle school in south Lincoln, as well as four elementary schools, or three, plus additions to existing schools.

Board members had lots of questions about the success of K-8 schools in other communities and whether they were sufficient to relieve severe overcrowding at Scott Middle School.

“One thing we want to see is relief for Scott Middle School,” said board member Kathy Danek.

Both the advisory committee and the district recommend updating the indoor air-handling systems at Everett Elementary School and Park Middle School — the only two existing schools that haven’t received the expensive updates. Those updates alone would cost nearly $48 million.

Both also recommended a new athletic facility, though the advisory committee suggested building two smaller ones on the sites of the new high schools, as well as adding artificial turf to existing high school practice fields.

The advisory committee also recommended adding $55 million for ongoing needs such as roof and window repairs or replacement. The district put the number at $35 million. And board member Barb Baier asked officials to explore whether it would be possible to use a combination of depreciation and general funds to pay for such needs instead.

The advisory committee wanted to add $10 million for land for the high schools, compared with the $4 million recommended earlier by the district, which didn’t include land for high schools.

Board members also asked how much they’d need to raise the tax rate to fund all the needs identified in the recommendations, and how much more money they’d have available if they raised the tax rate by a cent.

District officials plan to post answers to board members' questions on the LPS website. The next work session is scheduled for Sept. 18.

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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