The Omaha school district is on track toward its goal of $10 million in expense reductions, the school board was told last week.

The final 2019-2020 budget won’t be presented to the school board until September, but the district keeps checking items off the to-do list in preparing next year’s budget.

Courtney Bird, interim chief financial officer for the Omaha Public Schools, said the district searched for unspent budget dollars or savings on purchased services more than actual cuts in service.

An example would be looking at utility costs or supplies that are purchased and tightening up the budget to reflect most recent trends, Bird said.

In April, Superintendent Cheryl Logan sent an email to all OPS staff members informing them that the district’s budget problems would necessitate a reduction in force of about 15 to 20 positions at the central office.

Bird said it’s expected to still be in the 15 to 20 range when the budget is finalized.

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The district also evaluated staffing needs at schools throughout the district and made adjustments where needed. That work and reductions at the central office led to the reassignment of some personnel to new roles or new schools within the district, Bird said.

The district is also receiving a $15.9 million bump in state aid, up to $291.6 million. The increase comes after a $12.5 reduction for the current year, making it a net increase of $3.3 million over two years.

For the 2018-19 budget year, the district had planned on making a $21.3 million payment into the district’s underfunded pension system in August.

New numbers released after an actuarial report earlier this year lowered the required payment.

Recognizing the importance of reducing the pension liability as quickly as possible, Bird told the board that the district still intends to pay the $21.3 million.

Bird said the estimated required payment into the pension fund for the 2019-2020 budget year is $21.4 million.

The district’s pension system has a $812 million shortfall.

The district each year is required by state law to essentially match the amount of money staff members contribute to the fund from their paychecks, plus make any extra payments that actuaries determine are necessary toward paying down any unfunded liability.

The district has also finalized contracts for several bargaining groups, including teachers. Negotiations continue with the remaining groups — salaries and benefits make up about 79% of the district’s expenses in the 2019-2020 budget.

The district is still waiting for final property valuations from Douglas and Sarpy Counties.

Other highlights of the 2019-2020 budget include:

  • $7 million for elementary English language textbooks.
  • A busing contract that increases transportation costs by $2.2 million.
  • The opening of Gifford Park Elementary School and building renovation work not included in recent bond issues, such as repairs and replacements of athletic fields and tracks.

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Emily covers K-12 education, including Omaha Public Schools. Previously, Emily covered local government and the Nebraska Legislature for The World-Herald. Follow her on Twitter @emily_nitcher. Phone: 402-444-1192.

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