Supts ON! – Funding Public Education

It is that time of year when Nebraska’s Unicameral convenes to consider, debate, and take all necessary action to form new legislation and settle on a state budget. At some point, State Senators participate in conversations that focus on property taxes and funding public education. I have been a superintendent for several years, and the common themes surrounding the funding … (Click the title to read more…) of public education traditionally include school spending, a heavy reliance on property taxes, and the state of Nebraska’s contribution to education as compared to all states across the nation. There has been finger-pointing, the alarming willingness to alter facts, and a commitment to undermine board members who have been elected by their constituents to make decisions for their school district.

This version of Supts On is intended to offer specifics regarding the condition of a budget for Gibbon Public Schools. I do not intend to point a finger; however, I do wish to highlight the reality of our particular situation and the struggles one school district lives each day when considering the needs of every student who walks through our halls. After all, shouldn’t our students have the very same opportunities that exist across our state or across this wonderful nation? Like all school districts, Gibbon Public Schools is building a strong curriculum, developing skills associated with productive citizenship, and enhancing opportunities to offer students a variety of choices designed to prepare them for college and career. As with other school districts, Gibbon Public Schools is expected to address so much more than graduation requirements and safe buildings. We must also meet additional demands ranging from unfunded mandates to changes in state and federal statute.

Let’s take a look at state aid to education. For Gibbon Public Schools, this funding source has significantly declined over the course of the past several years. For the 2012-13 school year, Gibbon Public Schools received $2,420,312 in funding through the state aid formula. The amount of funding fell to as low as $92,314 for the 2016-17 school year. In the 2018-19 school year, the school district received just over $500,000 which is substantially lower to what it received back in 2012-13. Although the school district receives some federal funding, the amount of revenue received does not come close to replacing what has been lost in state aid.

A look at school spending shows an effort to reduce expenditures. When our school district develops a budget, we compare expenses to the revenue required to cover those expenses. This past year, we looked at every line item and considered needs versus wants while eliminating wasteful practices. This effort realized positive dividends with the district lowering expenses by $222,828.98. For the 2018-19 school year, and my second in Gibbon Public Schools, the school district projected its expenses at $7,610,278.68. For the 2017-18 school year, the district projected expenditures to be at $7,833,107.66.

Despite efforts to reduce spending, the loss in revenue received by the district through the state of Nebraska’s funding formula has placed Gibbon Public Schools in a position where it was required to raise the general fund levy. Using the same timeframe to illustrate the decline in revenue received through state aid, the following information offers a picture of our school’s district general fund levy. Back in 2012-13, the general fund levy rested at 95 cents. The general fund levy fell to approximately 86 cents for the school years 2015-16 and 2016-17. However, that trend began to change. As the district continued to lose state aid, we became more dependent upon revenue generated through property taxes. For the 2017-18 school year, the district built a budget that included a general fund levy of 95 cents, and for the current school year, the district established a budget that included a general fund levy of $1.00.

I believe Nebraska wants to maintain the quality of their public schools. I firmly believe every individual residing in the state of Nebraska would like to see a decline in their property taxes. However, to accomplish each of these worthy goals requires a change in the rhetoric that has taken place to date. Our children deserve a more united effort by our state politicians to arrive at a solution that offers greater support for public education while reducing the reliance on property taxes. Suggestions have been made. Solutions have been offered. Hopefully, this year, we see a commitment by the governor and our state senators to place loyalty to party to the side and focus on developing strategies to address these glaring problems.

Vernon F. Fisher

Superintendent, Gibbon Public Schools