Two successful alums of Millard Public Schools voiced support Thursday for a ballot initiative that would give school board members more taxing authority.

Former University of Nebraska at Omaha basketball standout Kyler Erickson and 2001 Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch got behind the tax levy override initiative at a rally that drew about 250 people.

Erickson spoke in person. Crouch sent a letter of support.

The crowd, which included four school board members, gathered in the parking lot of the Millard Public Schools Foundation building at 159th Avenue and Q Street.

“This is amazing that we have so many people here for this meeting that we can’t even fit inside,” said Stacy Jolley, co-chair of the pro-override group.

Jolley urged the crowd to action: to put up signs, go door to door and talk to friends and neighbors.

“If you are those people who have said ‘I will help,’ the time is now,” she said. “I can’t believe that in five days — we’ve been working on this for weeks — and in five days those ballots are going to arrive in mailboxes.”

Jim Sutfin, the district’s superintendent, addressed the crowd, briefly outlining the financial conditions that led to the override effort.

Sutfin noted the presence of State Sen. Rick Kolowski and board members Mike Pate, Linda Poole, Amanda McGill Johnson and Mike Kennedy, praising the board for putting the override before voters.

“It took a lot of courage for them to put this proposition together to bring it to the community, and I applaud them for their effort,” he said.

If voters approve the override, the school board could levy up to 9 extra cents per $100 of property valuation for programs and operations. Sutfin said the levy override would be “an insurance policy” to preserve programs in case state aid and property values don’t go up enough to cover the expected 3 percent increase in next year’s budget.

He told the crowd that his own children and those in his extended family have benefited in different ways from attending Millard schools. He said his own family is a microcosm of the school district.

“I have watched them receive special education services,” he said. “I have watched them participate in high-ability learning. I’ve watched them take (Advanced Placement) courses, and I’ve watched them participate in (International Baccalaureate). I’ve watched them create amazing works of art.”

He said when the family members get together at Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays, they talk about the great experiences and opportunities they’ve had in Millard schools.

Erickson, a Millard South High School alum, majored in business management and entrepreneurship at UNO and was captain of the men’s basketball team.

He led the crowd in a cheer of “Let’s go, Millard.”

He said it’s the supportive culture that sets Millard apart.

“If there’s one thing that I’ll fight for, it’s to keep Millard strong,” he said. “It’s to keep this community and this culture strong.”

Erickson read a statement from Crouch, the Heisman Trophy-winning former Nebraska Cornhusker who apologized for not being there in person because he had to coach youth football.

Crouch attended Millard North High School from 1994 to 1997.

“I had the very best teachers and coaches who deeply cared about me as a person,” Crouch wrote. “Millard Public Schools was instrumental in giving me confidence and determination to be successful in life.”

He wrote that he hoped each student attending or who will attend school in the district will have the same opportunity.

Leslie Washburn attended the rally with her daughter, Whitney, 10, a fourth-grader. She left carrying several pro-override signs. She said she believes in voting yes to keep the community strong.

“I think a strong school district is essential to keeping our property values high,” she said. “And I have a child who takes advantage of programs that are outside of traditional curriculum, like the arts and Advanced Placement, and I would hate to see those be at risk.”

joe.dejka@owh.com, 402-444-1077

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Joe covers education for The World-Herald, focusing on pre-kindergarten through high school. Phone: 402-444-1077.

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