The Omaha Public Schools expect to put a $409.9 million bond issue before voters this May to build five new schools — including two high schools — add classrooms to crowded schools, and replace aging boilers and roofs.
The OPS board voted 9-0 Monday night to approve the project list and price tag for a bond referendum that board members have been fine-tuning for months.
It’s a follow-up to the record-breaking $421 million bond measure voters approved in 2014 to tackle a backlog of building needs that piled up for more than a decade.
The board will still have to draft and approve official ballot language to place the bond measure on the May 15 ballot. The deadline to submit that ballot language is March 1.
Board members said they know it’s a big ask. But they said they are fulfilling a promise made in 2014 to put up another bond issue that would update more schools and build new ones in South Omaha and northwest Omaha, which have seen rapid growth and classroom crowding.
“This is really planning for our future,” said Vice President Lacey Merica.
The 2014 bond issue was focused largely on fixing up and updating older schools and buying land for future schools. Phase 2 would allocate funds to actually build those new schools and add on to several elementary and middle schools.
By adding space, OPS will be able to reduce — but not entirely eliminate — its reliance on portable classrooms. And officials hope that families who have opted out of OPS might be lured back by the new high schools.
”It hits and touches a lot of different schools throughout our district,” board member Tracy Casady said of the bond proposal.
The new schools include:
» A 1,500-capacity high school at 60th and L Streets to ease crowding at South and Bryan High Schools. South enrolls more than 2,500 students, and 13 portables sit outside Bryan.
» A 1,500-capacity high school at 156th and Ida Streets to provide a neighborhood high school option to families in far northwest Omaha. Burke High, in west Omaha, is also crowded, with almost 2,000 students and 10 portables. Northwest High’s enrollment has been growing, too.
» Two 600-capacity elementary schools, at 10th and Pine Streets in Omaha and 1000 N. Fort Crook Road in Bellevue.
» A 1,000-capacity middle school at 42nd and U Streets.
Additions would be built on to several elementary and middle schools, including Spring Lake Magnet Center, Edison Elementary, Masters Elementary and Lewis and Clark Middle School.
All high schools and alternative programs would receive updates, from new water heaters and pavement at North High to replacing windows and lights at Central High.
Included in the bond plans are two projects parents lobbied hard for: a pool at the 156th and Ida high school, part of a tentative partnership between OPS and the YMCA of Greater Omaha, and a new location for the Transition Program that serves young adults with disabilities.
The YMCA and OPS are in talks to build a shared-use facility at that school, which would include a six-lane indoor pool, fitness facility and child care rooms. The shared space would be contingent on voters approving the Phase 2 bond measure. OPS and the YMCA would still have to negotiate the usage and cost.
The Transition Program would move to a new facility from two of its current locations, the Paralyzed Veterans of America site in Benson and the Career Center at 32nd and Cuming Streets. The relocation would cost $2.38 million. The program enrolls about 160 young adults with varying degrees of disabilities who learn job and independent living skills.
Taking on more debt would raise taxes for OPS homeowners. A $409.9 million bond issue would raise the tax levy by about 7 cents, resulting in a yearly tax increase of $105 on a home assessed at $150,000. This year, an OPS taxpayer with a $150,000 home paid about $1,890 in school taxes.
The City of Omaha has a $227.5 million bond measure on the May ballot for streets, parks and other facility improvements. But the city plan would not require an increased tax rate.
The Elkhorn Public Schools has a $149.6 million bond measure on the March 13 ballot, and the Papillion-La Vista Community Schools board is considering a bond issue, too.