11 district leaders stick together on their plan

February 11, 2015

OMAHA WORLD-HERALD

BY MARTHA STODDARD

LINCOLN - The Learning Community could be sticking around, along with its controversial common property tax levy, if testimony at Tuesday legislative hearing is any indication.

The 11 Omaha-area superintendents backed pair of bills that would keep the common levy while carrying out other pieces of their plan to revamp the Learning Community.

No one spoke against Legislative Bills 528 and 529, which were introduced by State Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids, the Education Committee chairwoman.

By contrast, measures that would scrap the common levy split the superintendents’ group.

The Learning Community superintendents’ plan calls for eliminating the common levy only if state school aid is increased.

Elkhorn Superintendent Steve Baker said the superintendents believe Sullivan’s bills are “good start,” even if they don’t address all of the group’s rec- ommendations.

The Education Committee heard testimony on six bills offering different ideas for overhauling the innovative educational structure.

The committee took no immediate action on any of the measures.

Sullivan said she does not know when committee mem- bers will discuss the bills. She predicted that the end result would combine pieces from multiple proposals.

“We’re going to need to have some sausage-making conversations,” she said.

Gretna Superintendent Kevin Riley urged the committee members to heed the superintendents’ plan.

“Please, please, please use this report as your guiding force,” he said. “The recommendations in this report are for the common good.”

The superintendents’ plan calls for maintaining the Learning Community structure, its special programs targeting low-achieving students and the 1.5-cent property tax levy that funds the programs.

The bills heard Tuesday were:

>>LB 528, which would figure state aid for the 11 districts individually rather than for the Learning Community as whole. The change would mean $3.8 million more in aid for the districts. The bill would make some other changes sought by the superintendents.

>>LB 529, which would guarantee that all Learning Community districts get to keep minimum amount of their property tax revenues. The change could help Douglas County West and Springfield-Platteview, which now send more than 10 percent of their taxes to other districts under the common levy.

>>LB 421, introduced by Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion, which would eliminate the Learning Community. The bill drew support from tax watchdog groups and some Sarpy County taxpayers.

>>LB 481, also introduced by Kintner, which would allow school districts to opt out of the Learning Community. Backers included the superintendents from Papillion-La Vista and Springfield-Platteview.

>>LB 96, introduced by Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion, which would eliminate the common levy but leave the Learning Community in place. Three superintendents from Douglas County West, Papillion-La Vista
and Springfield-Platteview supported the bill.

>>LB 392, introduced by Sen. Sue Crawford of Belle- vue, which would eliminate the common levy and provide for the courts to resolve bound- ary disputes among certain Learning Community districts.
The Bellevue superintendent and local developers backed the bill.

All but Sullivan’s bills drew opposition from the Omaha Public Schools. Lou Ann Goding, president of the OPS board, said the levy is important to the district because of the stability it provides.

She said state aid must be increased for teaching students living in poverty and English language learners if the com- mon levy is abolished.

Nebraska lawmakers created the Learning Community in the aftermath of OPS’sbruising “one city, one school district” boundary fight and lawsuit aimed at boosting state funding. OPS wanted to take over parts of other districts that lie within the Omaha city boundaries as part of quest to increase property tax resourc- es and other support for the district.

Under the 2007 law, funds from state school aid and the common levy are redistributed among the 11 Learning Community districts, with the goals of sharing resources equitably across the Omaha metropolitan area and raising the academic achievement of disadvantaged students.

The common levy is set at $0.95 on each $100 of assessed value.

The Learning Communitylaw also included provisions freezing school boundaries.

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