Omaha Public Schools officials have warned that budget reductions will have to be made to balance the 2019-2020 budget.
On Thursday night, the district provided its first look at how much that might be.
The district is looking at an estimated budget gap of $10 million, said Courtney Bird, interim chief financial officer for OPS.
Bird, speaking to the school board, said the district also could be looking at a larger-than-expected payment into its underfunded pension fund.
The payment to the pension fund in the 2019-2020 budget could be $1 million more than expected, increasing from $24.5 million to $25.5 million.
Faced with a pension system funded at only 64 percent of its obligations — and a $771 million shortfall — the district will have to make escalating payments in coming years to make the fund sustainable.
Bird’s presentation to the school board was an early picture of what might be ahead.
There are still quite a few unknowns. And the district doesn’t have a new contract with the Omaha Education Association, the union representing teachers.
The more than 4,000 teachers in the district account for more than half the district’s budget.
On Thursday, dozens of teachers showed up to the meeting wearing red shirts and price tag necklaces that showed how much they personally spend on their classrooms or how much more they could make teaching in nearby districts.
Robert Miller, OEA president, addressed the board. He said OEA went to the bargaining table with ideas that reflected the concerns of its members.
Those ideas included health insurance changes and adjustments to compensation to retain long-serving teachers.
Miller said the union had lots of ideas, but was repeatedly told no by the district. Instead, he said, OPS is asking teachers to accept fewer dollars in their paychecks next year and into the future.
Sign up for World-Herald news alerts
Be the first to know when news happens. Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.
“Honoring teachers is defending and honoring our students and public education,” Miller said. “We proposed nothing that does not have the future of the district and the success of our children at the center.”
None of the board members responded to Miller’s comments. Board members typically do not respond to people during the public comment portion of the meeting.
The district cut nearly $30 million from its 2018-2019 budget.
That resulted in the elimination of roughly 180 positions, many of which were already vacant, cuts to central administration and pay freezes for most employees, excluding teachers.
The district also drew down $21.6 million from its cash reserves.
The cuts were needed to close a budget shortfall caused in part by bigger payments to the pension system, including nearly $19 million in additional contributions to the pension fund.