Your school tax bill will look very different this year.
It probably will look bigger, and it might give you a sense of déjà vu.
For the first time, the controversial common property tax levy is gone this year — axed by lawmakers.
Metro Omaha districts in the learning cooperative no longer share property taxes and state aid.
Districts return to the funding system used by the rest of the state’s districts.
That means keeping all their local property tax revenue and, if they qualify, backfilling with state equalization aid to cover their calculated needs according to the state aid formula.
The 95-cent common levy, which had been set annually by the Learning Community Council since 2009, disappears from tax bills. But you won’t see a 95-cent drop in your levy.
In fact, it may appear that your local district dramatically increased its levy. It’s actually an accounting change. Lawmakers just shifted authority for that levy from the Learning Community to the districts, so district levies will look bigger than last year. The total levies are what matter for your tax bill.
Some districts, able to keep all their property taxes, see a dramatic drop in state aid this year, yet their bottom lines improve.
Others, the Omaha Public Schools included, get a large boost in aid because they can no longer tap revenue from the common levy.
Also this year, a new source of state aid kicks in. It’s called community achievement plan aid: extra aid for districts that educate students who live in poverty and are English-language learners.
That aid was part of the deal lawmakers struck to end the common levy.
All Learning Community districts get some, but the lion’s share — $5.7 million — goes to OPS, reflecting its high percentage of poor and immigrant students.
Here's how districts are adjusting to the end of the common property tax levy.
Property tax levy by school district, 2017-18
|District||Per $100 valuation||Impact for a $150K house|
|Papillion La Vista||1.30||1,950|
This year, residents will see a bond levy from the Bellevue Public Schools on their tax bills for the first time in decades.
After last year’s passage of a $76 million bond issue, the first in 42 years, Bellevue’s tax levy is now $1.14 per $100 of valuation. It makes for a school tax bill of $1,710 for a home assessed at $150,000. That’s a $75 increase over last year.
The district’s valuations have risen 6 percent since 2016.
The district’s total budget increased by less than 2 percent.
The district, with enrollment of 10,100, did not see a big change in funding when the common levy ended.
Bennington’s tax levy will remain roughly the same as last year, even as the district’s budget increases to accommodate more students.
The budget increased 15 percent this year, to $27.25 million. The total levy is $1.43 per $100 of valuation — remaining flat — which translates to a tax bill of $2,145 for a home assessed at $150,000.
K-12 enrollment continues to swell, coming in at 2,601 this year, an 11.5 percent increase. Bennington opened a new middle school this year, construction that was funded by a $38.5 million bond measure approved in 2015. The district also has built a new warehouse and auxiliary gym. The budget includes dollars to phase out in two years the extra state aid — $1.4 million — the district gets for opening a new school.
Bennington also has been rolling out a technology initiative, giving Chromebooks to students in grades 6-12.
So far, the district is benefiting from elimination of the common levy by keeping more property tax revenue, Superintendent Terry Haack said. Before, the district had lost between $100,000 and $300,000 a year due to the shared tax system, he said.
Douglas County West
The district encompassing Valley and Waterloo will have more control of its destiny with the common levy gone.
Planning for growth will be easier, Superintendent Melissa Poloncic said.
With the end of the common levy, the district loses about $3 million in state aid. But the district, with its large land area and enrollment of 867 K-12 students, now keeps every dollar from property taxes.
The budget is $14.24 million, up 7.3 percent.
The levy stays at $1.08 per $100 of property valuation. Eighty-nine cents will support the general fund, 5 cents will go in the Quality Capital Purpose Undertaking Fund for remediation of environmental and accessibility issues, and 14 cents will go in the building fund. School taxes on a $150,000 house will be $1,620.
Under the common levy, the district couldn’t set much money aside for building projects, Poloncic said. Voters rejected bond issues in 2014 and 2015.
Officials hope they can now take care of building needs without a bond issue. Topping the list are renovating high school science rooms and dealing with an aging elementary bursting at the seams.
Elkhorn’s $87.29 million budget includes anticipated costs to cover the opening of Blue Sage Elementary next year.
The total budget represents a spending increase of about 7.5 percent. The district’s total levy is $1.36 per $100 valuation, for a school tax bill of $2,040 for a home assessed at $150,000. That’s a $15 increase over last year.
Elkhorn has about 9,000 students this year, up 7.6 percent from last year. Its tax base grew 8 percent.
Elkhorn lost 12.4 percent in state aid this year, due to the elimination of the common levy and other changes. The 1-cent increase in the levy, cuts in some areas and the district’s growing tax base will help offset the aid decrease.
Nearly 70 percent of the district’s revenue is now derived from property taxes, compared with 45 percent last year.
Gretna’s budget, now at $51 million, saw a big increase this year — nearly 15 percent, including some grants — thanks to costs associated with opening two new schools.
The district grew from six to eight schools and added 60 employees this year, including 41 new teachers. The district, which enrolls 4,877, has added about 400 students each of the past two years.
This year, the district’s valuation went up about 10.5 percent, and state aid went up about 10 percent, both of which help the district grapple with the rapid growth. The new schools — Aspen Creek Elementary School and Aspen Creek Middle School — were built using funds from a $57.4 million bond issue approved by voters in 2015.
The total levy went up three-tenths of a cent, but remains at $1.39 per $100 valuation. That’s a school tax bill of $2,085 for a $150,000 house.
The campaign for a property tax-levy override is in full swing in Millard. The outcome of that Nov. 14 vote, however, has no effect on the 2017-18 budget in Nebraska’s third-largest district.
The board approved a $227.9 million budget, up 1.13 percent over last year.
It drops the levy to about $1.22 per $100 of valuation, nearly a half-cent reduction. The school tax bill will be $1,830 on a $150,000 house, about a $7 decrease if the homeowner escaped a valuation increase. The district’s property valuation rose 2.67 percent.
To make ends meet, the board used $2.5 million from cash reserves and also cut personnel through attrition.
Those cuts included six elementary reading and math interventionists, half a middle school position, three high school teachers, a district interventionist, a social worker, an early childhood position, eight custodians, a school resource officer and a warehouse manager. The school board also cut utilities and technology budgets.
Superintendent Jim Sutfin says more cuts will be necessary if the revenue picture doesn’t change.
If voters approve the extra 9 cents of property tax levy authority next month, the school board can use some or all of it to increase revenue for the 2018-19 budget.
Enrollment is 23,267.
The Omaha Public Schools lost a chunk of their property tax revenue with the elimination of the common levy, but got a state aid boost this year to offset the loss and account for students who are living in poverty or learning English.
The district’s budget increased 4.6 percent this year to $608.8 million. State aid was up 27 percent — by roughly $62 million — though property tax revenue fell 17.6 percent. Board members have concerns about the long-term stability of state aid versus revenue brought in by property taxes, especially as the district faces future costs, including pension payments and additional operational costs if new schools are built via another bond program.
The valuation of the property tax base grew 4 percent this year, higher than initially anticipated.
The total levy for the 2017-18 school year is roughly $1.26 per $100 valuation, an increase of about 1.5 cents over last year. The total school tax bill for a home valued at $150,000 would be about $1,890, a $30 increase.
OPS enrolls about 50,130 K-12 students.
Papillion La Vista
Aided by growth in property values and the end of the common levy, the Papillion La Vista Community Schools grow their budget this year with a slight levy increase.
An additional levy hike could be on the horizon, however. The school board is eyeing a bond-issue election next year. The preliminary project list contains $115 million in classroom additions, renovations, technology and security upgrades. The final projects and tax impact have yet to be set.
The board adopted a $134.6 million budget for 2017-18, up 3.68 percent from last year.
State aid decreased but was more than offset by an increase in property tax revenue, partly due to the common levy’s demise. The overall revenue increase was $2.6 million, or 2.1 percent, officials said. The board used $2.2 million from cash reserves to make ends meet.
Property valuations in the district rose 7.14 percent.
The total property tax levy, including bond funds, is just over $1.30 per $100 of valuation. That yields a tax bill of about $1,950 on a $150,000 house.
The district enrolls 11,617.
The Ralston district is dipping into cash reserves to compensate for less property tax revenue and a reduction in state aid as a result of the loss of the common levy.
The district will take $521,000 from its reserves to make ends meet in 2017-18. The financial hit comes as the budget grows to $33.8 million, up 4.2 percent from last year. The increase stems mostly from enrollment growth — the district is up to 3,365 students, a 60-student increase from last year.
But Ralston’s state aid decreased about $2.9 million to $10.7 million this year.
The district is slightly lowering its total levy for the second straight year. In 2017-18, the school levy will be $1.26 per $100 valuation. That’s $1,890 for a $150,000 house.
Valuation for the district increased by 2.46 percent, which is rare for the landlocked and mostly built-out district. But the increase is still the lowest of the 11 Learning Community districts.
In the wake of the end of the common levy, the Springfield Platteview school district increased its budget to $15.8 million, a 3 percent bump from last year, and resurrected some programs.
The district brought back the middle school computer science program, added three teachers, and is offering more dual enrollment and online classes to high schoolers. The district also put the maximum amount in its building fund for facility projects that couldn’t be completed with the common levy.
District enrollment is 1,107.
The tax levy was lowered slightly to $1.05 per $100 of valuation. Last year it was $1.07. That means a school tax bill of $1,575 for a $150,000 house.
Westside was forced to enact more cuts this year to arrive at its $69.5 million budget.
The district has trimmed staff positions, programs and other expenses over recent years to balance its budget, including about $2.3 million worth of cuts this year. Officials have complained of flat or modest growth in the district’s tax base and lobbied for more state aid.
The total valuation for the landlocked district was up by about 3.3 percent this year.
Last month, voters approved a 15-cent levy override that will go into effect during the 2018-19 school year.
The total tax levy is about $1.34 per $100 valuation, for a school tax bill of $2,010, an increase of $30.
Westside enrolls about 5,955 students.
World-Herald staff writers Erin Duffy, Emily Nitcher and Hailey Konnath contributed to this report.