Lincoln Public Schools proposes lowering its tax rate by 1 cent to fund a $443.2 million general fund budget — a 5.3 percent increase in spending that will include the district’s share of a new interlocal agreement on several school security measures.
The proposal to lower the general fund tax rate to $1.04 per $100 of assessed property valuation — 1 cent below the state-imposed lid — is tied to a substantial increase in the district’s two main sources of revenue for the second year in a row.
State aid will go up $20 million, to $146.6 million, and LPS officials estimate property tax revenue will increase by $9.2 million, to $229.4 million, even as the property tax levy is rolled back.
Last year, LPS — like other local government entities — benefited from a total revaluation of residential property by the county assessor. The 9 percent increase in property tax revenue generated an additional $18.2 million, though state aid remained relatively flat.
There was substantial pressure last year to lower the tax rate, though district officials cited enrollment growth and increased student needs as a reason to keep the tax rate at the state-imposed lid.
This year, in addition to lowering the general fund tax rate for 2018-19, LPS officials want to lower the tax rate used to collect money for bond payments by another half-cent.
In addition to the general fund budget, the district levies property taxes to pay off bond debt and to support the Educational Service Unit, which handles much of the district’s professional development, assessment and evaluation work.
That means the overall tax rate to pay for public schools would be $1.224 per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of a $182,400 home in Lincoln would pay $2,232. That’s an annual savings of $28 over the current tax bill, assuming the homeowner’s property valuation doesn’t increase.
The school district’s tax levy comprises more than 60 percent of a Lincoln homeowner’s tax bill.
The district plans to take $7.3 million of its revenue in 2018-19 and transfer it to its cash reserve.
Last year it drew $3.7 million from cash flow to fund its $420.8 million budget. The district uses a three-year forecasting model — and the cash reserve — to try to anticipate fluctuations in state aid and property tax revenue.
LPS officials say they anticipate a decrease in state aid next year, assuming there’s no change in state law. The bump in state aid this year comes primarily from a change in the way the state calculates the number of children who live in poverty. Schools get additional money from the state based on the percentage of students who live in poverty.
As is typical in the school budget, staff costs make up the bulk of the proposed increase.
The proposed budget includes $8 million to pay for a 3.07 percent average salary increase for teachers, as well as retention and recruitment money for paraeducators on buses and treatment nurses. LPS also wants to increase base pay for the treatment nurses, as well as accompanists for music programs.
The budget also includes $6.7 million for additional staff to keep up with continued enrollment growth. The robust growth of the past few years is expected to slow somewhat, but LPS still estimates it will see 500 new students next year.
The $6.7 million includes $3 million to add 47 new teachers. The district also wants to add an additional coordinator at each high school; counselors, nurses and social workers in elementary and middle schools; staff for special education and English language learners; and two gifted facilitators.
The interlocal agreement approved this week by the City Council and school board will be part of the budget, too. The district and city will each contribute $1.05 million through the agreement, which includes adding middle school resource officers, mental health services and support for the before- and after-school community learning centers, or CLCs.
In addition, LPS will spend $250,000 to pay for its portion to hire new police officers to work in middle schools. It also plans to hire a second security coordinator, though that's not part of the interlocal agreement.
Other major costs in the proposed 2018-19 district budget include:
* $2.4 million for early childhood education, the bulk of which is assuming costs previously paid by federal funds that are no longer available.
* $1.3 million to help pay for a position to oversee the focus programs and a second director of elementary education; support staff; an additional field trip for kindergartners; teacher stipends; increases in curriculum costs and curriculum staff.
* $1.3 million in increased transportation costs.
* $1.3 million for technology updates and various district department costs.