Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Nebraska has a School FUNDING Problem

In a recent article in Kearney area newspapers submitted by State Senator John Kuehn, he stated that “big increases in local subdivision spending created the property tax crisis.” That really caught my attention because that certainly has not been my experience as superintendent of schools in York, Nebraska.

I realize it’s a very “catchy” thing for some elected officials to blame local spending for our property tax dilemma but let’s look at some actual, audited data to form our own thoughts on this wildly political topic.

You see, our politicians know how the system works. They know what the school aid formula (TEEOSA) calculates each year and how much they allocate in the state budget for K-12 funding. I would hope they realize that TEEOSA has only been fully funded to its calculation three or four times in the past 16 years leaving increased local property taxes to fill the void in all other years. I would hope they understand that K-12 education used to be 32% of the state’s budget but is now 27.6%. They should know that their unwillingness to adequately fund K-12 public education forces our over-reliance on local property taxes. I assume they know that approximately 65% of Nebraska’s school districts don’t receive any equalization aid from the state as they are on their own with local property taxes as their primary revenue stream. Property taxes have soared in the last 7-8 years because of inadequate school funding.

Let’s look at the revenue side of the equation to back up my claims from above.

• York Public Schools has had an average annual total revenue increase of just 1.1% since 2008-09 despite our local property tax request increasing over 57% in that same time span. Many other school districts and communities are in the same situation.
o That’s correct….local property taxes have increased over 57% in eight years but our TOTAL revenue increased just 8.8% in that same eight year span.
o You see, in way too many instances, local property tax revenue is simply replacing lost funding from the state.
• We’ve seen the total annual revenue of York Public Schools decrease from $16,040,850 in 2014-15 to $15,016,433 in 2016-17 even though our property tax revenue went up close to $700,000 within that same time frame.

Now, let’s look at spending.

• York Public Schools has had an average annual spending increase of just 1.3% since 2008-09 and a 0% increase since 2014-15. Many other public school districts in Nebraska can say the same thing.
• So, a 0% spending increase since 2014-15 but our local property tax request has gone up $700,000 since then because it is replacing lost revenue….not because of spending.

Here are some facts and figures from the U.S. Census Bureau and annual audit of York Public Schools.

• Nebraska K-12 schools receive 49% of their funding from local property taxes while the national average is 29%.
o YPS receives about 74% of our funding from local property taxes

• Nebraska K-12 schools receive 33% of their funding from state sources while the national average is 47%.
o YPS receives only about 18% of our funding from state sources

It’s so easy for some elected officials to blame local spending for high property taxes. I wish they would spend more time and energy on fixing how our schools are funded. We have a funding problem that negatively impacts numerous school districts and communities. Expanding our tax base and looking at the hundreds of millions of dollars of incentives we give away each year could be a place to start as we work on finding revenue outside of local property taxes.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Student Contests to Celebrate Nebraska's 150th Birthday

Nebraska became a state on March 1, 1867 and has become an outstanding place to live, work, and raise a family. Nebraskans are known for a strong work ethic, kindness, and common sense. We hope many of our YPS students will participate in the contests below to show their pride in their home state!

ART CONTEST for K-12th Graders will recognize winners in K-2nd, 3rd-5th, 6th-8th, and 9th-12th grade divisions. Artwork of your choice that simply revolves around the theme of “Nebraska” is due to the YPS District Office on the east side of the high school campus by 4:00 PM on October 25th. All entries will all be entered with the chance to win multiple prizes and recognition at a Board of Education meeting. Paintings, sculptures, drawings, etc. are all welcome. Just make your artwork about Nebraska and turn it in.

ESSAY CONTEST for 3rd-12th Graders will recognize winners in 3rd-5th, 6th-8th, and 9th-12th grade divisions. Essays need to be between 250-600 words and describe why you feel Nebraska is a special place to live. Share your “Nebraska Pride” as you write this essay that is due to the YPS District Office on the east side of the high school campus by 4:00 PM on October 25th. All entries will all be entered with the chance to win multiple prizes and recognition at a Board of Education meeting.

POETRY CONTEST for 3rd-12th Graders will recognize winners in 3rd-5th, 6th-8th, and 9th-12th grade divisions. Poems need to be about some aspect of Nebraska you want to write about. The style of poem you wish to submit is up to you. Share your “Nebraska Pride” as you write this poem that is due to the YPS District Office on the east side of the high school campus by 4:00 PM on October 25th. All entries will all be entered with the chance to win multiple prizes and recognition at a Board of Education meeting.

Good luck!

Mike Lucas

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Just some Random Thoughts

I couldn't settle on one specific topic for this week's blog so I'm just going to share some miscellaneous thoughts on a wide array of topics...

* Trust is the most important ingredient in any relationship. You earn trust by doing what you say you're going to do.

* I'm disappointed in Republicans and Democrats. We need AMERICANS. We need political leaders that are more interested in making our NATION great than they are in serving their political party. Imagine if both sides spent half as much time and energy on actual solutions to make our country better as they do on blaming each other. The United States of America is more important than the Republican or Democratic party.

* Mammy, who I blogged about last week, is hanging in there. She isn't able to walk, has had some heart failure episodes, and is battling low blood pressure but she's alert, in good spirits, and surrounded by her friends.

* "High expectations" is an important aspect of successful organizations. Too many places accept "pretty good" as good enough. If you're not trying to be the absolute best at whatever it is you're doing, why waste your time? Find a sense of purpose in all you do. Pretty good is the enemy. Be elite!

* All winning organizations have a "comfortable level of discomfort." We can't get lazy and content and satisfied. We must be willing to make ourselves and our teammates a little uncomfortable so we can continue to get better. This is an area many people struggle with...we're never going to be as good as we need to be....success is a "journey" and not a "destination." Find new things to try. Find new strategies to implement. Try new lessons. Stay relevant.

* I love the saying "there are no traffic jams on the extra mile." Good things happen to people that work hard. The best way to develop confidence in yourself is to outwork your competition. You can't control many things about life but you can control your effort and what kind of tenacity you put into something. I will take someone with average talent and an insane work ethic over someone with lots of talent and an average work ethic every day of the week.

* I can't imagine a better career for me than public education. Our students inspire me in so many ways. We have some amazingly talented and hard-working students. We have students that overcome more adversity in one month than you'd wish on your worst enemy in a lifetime. We have a positive culture (not perfect) throughout YPS where kids genuinely care for each other most of the time and work to support each other. It's an honor to work for the students of YPS every day.

* Being part of the TeamMates mentoring program is something I look forward to each week. I've recently begun my third mentor/mentee relationship with a wonderful 8th grader at YMS. It's awesome to look at things through his lens for 45-minutes each week. I highly recommend to anyone who has the time to become a mentor.

Have a great week.

Monday, September 25, 2017

My Mammy

Mammy is my 97-year old grandmother that lives in Wildwood, Florida. For the first time in her life, she is experiencing some major health problems and it has me concerned about her quality of life moving forward. I just don’t want her to suffer.

I was blessed with four of the most amazing grandparents in the world and Mammy is the only one I have left. Mammer passed away in 1995. Pappy died in 2004. Pop left us in 2009. All four made an immeasurable impact on me and I think of them each and every day. All four are prominently displayed in my office and I often look at their pictures when I need a smile or a deep breath.

Mammy was just out here to visit over Labor Day Weekend. She went to our YHS football game on Friday, September 1st and I even had the announcer recognize her over the PA system. She enjoyed a burger at the Booster Club's "meal deal." We watched college football on Saturday. We took a walk that Sunday. We sat on the front patio and talked for an hour that Monday. It was so great to see her and I kept hoping it wouldn’t be the “last time.”

Mammy was also out here in June for my oldest daughter’s wedding. She brought her best friend, Miss Jackie, who we love very much as well. Those few days with Mammy are another topnotch memory and I’m so glad she was able to see one of her great-grandchildren get married. I made sure I gave her lots of hugs.

Mammy loves Nebraska sweet corn and we had some that trip! She visited us in West Point, Franklin, and York over the years and always looked forward to some corn. She loves the importance of farming as she grew up in watermelon and cantaloupe country down south.

Mammy taught me a lot. One of the more amazing things was her dependability. She played the organ in the First Baptist Church of Oxford, Florida for over 65 years! She only missed about six Sundays during that entire span, an average of one per DECADE!

She taught me how to look after others. There’s nobody in Sumter County, Florida that has ever been sick or homebound or experiencing some adversity that didn’t get a homemade pie from Mammy, I can promise you that! She has one of the biggest hearts in the universe! Her key lime and lemon meringue are my favorites but they’re all wonderful. In fact, back in the day, Village Inn out by I-75 that runs through Wildwood used to contract with Mammy to have her make some pies for them. That’s pretty dadgum good!

Mammy also taught me about forgiveness. As you might imagine, she’s seen and experienced a lot of ups and downs in 97 years. Mammy is always quick to forgive and willing to “let the past be the past.” She’s shown me that sometimes the bigger person has to swallow their pride and extend an olive branch to move past a situation that is awkward for many.

More than anything else, Mammy has taught me about “family” and “love.” Mammy has always been the glue of our family. She has always been the sweet and loving person that made our family tick. She was so dedicated to Pappy before he passed away in 2004. She was so protective of family time on Sunday afternoon after church. She made every holiday special. She made you feel like the most important person in the world.

Mammy taught me about trust. If she told you she was going to do something, she did it. Period. She’s always been rock solid.

One of my favorite memories about Mammy (and Pappy) was that they came up to Ocala for one of my high school football games one Friday night when we had a torrential downpour before, during, and after the game. It was raining so hard the entire game you could hardly see the ball or your opponent. Well, Mammy and Pappy made the 30-minute drive to Booster Stadium and sat in the car in the parking lot and listened to the game on the radio. They just wanted to be “with” me they said.

Mammy got mugged in Jacksonville in November 1987 going to one of our playoff football games. She still made it to the game. She was/is tough.

As a young boy, I would spend almost every weekend with Mammy and Pappy and they would take me to Wildwood High football games. I would often catch a little red and white football from the WHS cheerleaders and would spend all day Saturday playing football by myself as I would throw passes to myself, dodge invisible tacklers, and have a grand ol’ time for hours after hours. I bet you I ate about 12 oranges a day when I was at Mammy’s. They had some of the best orange and kumquat trees in the world right there in their yard.

When I worked in the watermelon fields over the summer, I would often spend the night at Mammy’s as I was too tired to make the 30-minute drive back to Ocala. One time, my good buddy, DR Repass stayed with me. Mammy made 2-dozen chocolate chip cookies. DR ate 20 of them. This would’ve been about 1989. I last spoke to DR in 2013 and he told me those were still the best chocolate chip cookies he’s ever eaten!

I remember lots of Christmas Eves at Mammy’s house. After we ate and everyone was playing with their gifts or visiting with family, Pappy would break out a loaf of bread and a bowl of thick cane syrup. Pappy would then get all of the kids to dip their bread in the cane syrup that was so dark and thick that it often felt like cement. We would all eat a piece or two while Pappy would have 10-12. Mammy would come in and help clean up the sticky mess and just laugh and tease Pappy about his bad habit of bread and cane syrup.

I was very nervous when I left Florida in early August 1990 to leave for college in Atchison, Kansas. I cried several times as I said goodbye to friends, coaches, and family. However, I never cried as hard as I did when I told Mammy goodbye the day before I left. As I pulled out of her driveway, I made it about a half-mile down the road before I had to pull over because I couldn’t see through my tears. That’s what Mammy meant and still means to me.

Mammy was a huge influence on my life. She was one person I could always count on. Aside from the special holidays and events, it was just the “regular” days that I will miss the most. Sitting on her front porch swing, retrieving canned goodies out of mason jars in her basement, or going to her church with her…..every time you were around Mammy, you became better.

When Mammy dies, I will no longer be a grandson and that is a role I will always cherish and deeply miss. I am thankful for the many years and memories that Mammy and I have had together. She is a special, special person that will be greatly missed when her time comes.

Mammy will always be with me in my heart; just like Mammer, Pop, and Pappy are. I kid you not, still to this very day, I often think about what I’m doing and how I’m doing it to ensure that I don’t disappoint my grandparents. I don’t ever want to let them down and though I’m not as good as I want to be, I simply want to make them proud. If you’re the praying kind, please send some positive thoughts for my Mammy.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Participation Ribbons for Everyone

"Are participation awards devaluing the importance of hard work and competition in youth sports?" I was asked this tough question by Julia Lee, one of our awesome seniors at YHS as she's working on an assignment for her Senior English course. I kind of surprised myself with my answer, which was "NO."

I truly don't think that participation awards devalue the importance of hard work and competition.

What devalues youth sports, in my opinion, is when each kid gets an MVP award or is selected to an "all star" game. Participation doesn't devalue youth sports, telling every kid they're "the best" does. Everyone can't be "the best."

To me, participation awards are great. It's a way to show ALL members of a 4th grade baseball team that their efforts are valued. Whether you're the best player on the team, or the worst, you can be on time, be coachable, be a good teammate, work hard, show improvement, and learn how to win and lose with grace. Aren't these traits we need to put to use in the "real world" each and every day?

Not every member of that 4th grade baseball team gets to pitch. They don't all get to hit in the cleanup spot or steal bases. They don't all get to play shortstop. Some will have to sit out a few innings while others will play the whole game. That's real life. We are better at some things than we are at others. We can't all be "the best."

Another reason I am in favor of participation awards is that I see declining participation on the horizon. I see too many parents that don't want their kids to be involved because they don't want to have to wake up on Saturday mornings to get them to soccer games, etc. If a participation ribbon or certificate is going to get a 3rd grader to go out for volleyball, let's do it.

I want EVERY child to be able to be part of a team, to learn the value of hard work, to learn how to overcome adversity. The "real world" is going to kick all of us in the teeth plenty once we get older. Let kids play. Let kids figure out through experiences what they like and don't like. They need to learn to develop confidence and earn trust from others.

Youth sports can be a positive microcosm of real life. You win some. You lose some. Sometimes, you play well. Other times, you kind of stink. Regardless of the outcome, you have to keep working. You have to set goals. You have to learn how to deal with success and overcome adversity.

You have to control what you can control and that is definitely a life lesson. Control your attitude, your effort level, and your commitment to the team. Sometimes, you might be "the best" on your team. Other times, you won't be. Find your role and embrace it to make yourself and the team better.

Just some random thoughts....

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

"The State Doesn't Levy Property Taxes"

The Nebraska State Chamber of Commerce is an important organization for us all. We need them to provide exceptional leadership as they get involved with economic development, workforce issues, and many other statewide initiatives.

The Nebraska State Chamber of Commerce will hold numerous meetings across the state this fall. They've already been in York. They will be in Aurora on September 18th, Henderson on September 25th, and in many other communities as well before Halloween. When they get asked about Nebraska's high rate of property taxes, they are often quick to say, “The state doesn’t levy property taxes…your high property taxes are due to spending at the local level.”

Well, that's not actually the case. The state does NOT levy property taxes. However, the state's lack of adequate and sustainable funding for public education FORCES local taxing entities to have an extreme over-reliance on local property taxes. It gets old to be blamed for high property taxes due to our spending when we have a 'funding' problem.

Here are some data points for you to read and decide on your own.

1) Nebraska K-12 schools receive 49% of their funding from local property taxes while the national average is 29%.
2) YPS receives about 74% of our funding from local property taxes. (The state doesn't levy property taxes but where else are we going to get our funding here in York?)

3) Nebraska K-12 schools receive 33% of their funding from state sources while the national average is 47%.
4) YPS receives only about 18% of our funding from state sources

YPS has had an average annual spending increase of just 1.3% since 2008-09. We’ve had a 0% spending increase since 2014-15. However, some still say it is a "spending problem."

Our TOTAL General Fund Property Taxes has increased 66.6% since 2008-09 for an average annual increase of 8.3%. However, our TOTAL General Fund Revenue has increased just 9.1% since 2008-09 for an average annual increase of 1.1%. That's right...property taxes went up over 66% since 2008-09 BUT those extra dollars basically just replaced lost revenue from the state and federal levels as our total revenue only went up an average of 1.1%.

Ok, let's adjust some spending data and see what happens with our property tax data above. Let's say YPS should have cut an extra million dollars out of our budget...we shouldn't be satisfied with an average annual spending increase of just 1.3%...we should be at 0% forever....never update technology for students....never replace old vehicles...never purchase updated curriculum tools....etc. If our 2016-17 spending and tax request was decreased by $1 million, our general fund tax request would still have gone up over 51% since 2008-09....does that solve the issue? Does a 6.4% average annual increase in local property taxes solve the problem? The answer is NO. We have a funding problem, folks.

School spending is not the culprit for high property taxes in Nebraska. School spending is already subject to annual spending and tax levy lids mandated at the state level. A better approach to true property tax relief would be to address how Nebraska funds schools so we can improve upon our rank of 49th in the nation for the percent of K-12 education funded by the state.

According to data obtained from the legislative fiscal office’s report from August 2015, total school district disbursements for Nebraska's public school districts of all funds grew by only an annual average of just 3.5% from 2003-04 through 2013-14. During the same 2003-04 through 2013-14 time span, the number of students educated statewide in Nebraska’s public schools increased 8.16% from 284,181 to 307,398.

York's TOTAL General Fun Spending has increased just 11.0% since 2008-09, for an average annual increase of 1.3%. We've had a0% spending increase since 2014-15. Much of the 11% spending increase since 2008-09 has been due to grant funded programming we've added to address the number of students we have living in poverty. TOTAL State Aid was $3.7 million in 2009 and is now $225,557.

"The state doesn't levy property taxes" but where else will YPS receive the money we need to operate?

I appreciate many of the tough issues our Nebraska State Chamber of Commerce has to address. The State Chamber employs many hard working folks. I wish them well as they try to make our state better. I hope they can try to take a look at some educational funding issues and see that Nebraska's great public schools are a true asset to this state, not an enemy.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Homecoming 2017

Believe it or not, we are gearing up for York Duke Homecoming the week of September 11th-17th. We have lots to celebrate and much to look forward to. We are hopeful that many of our alumni will continue to show their support for all that we do. Those of us that are lucky enough to serve York Public Schools today are very appreciative of our proud history and will continue to work hard to ensure a bright future for those York Dukes that come after us.

Here's some info about Homecoming 2017 and the various dress up days we will have at YHS.

MONDAY - Underwater/Beach Day
TUESDAY - Teacher/Student Swap Day where students dress like teachers and teachers dress like students
WEDNESDAY - Jersey Day
THURSDAY - Character/Disney/Marvel Day
FRIDAY - Duke Pride Blue & Gold Day

Our downtown parade/spirit march will be on Wednesday, September 13th at 2:45.

Our pep rally and bonfire will be on Wednesday, September 13th at 8:30 PM at YHS in the east parking lot. This late start time will allow Wednesday evening church activities to take place beforehand.

The Homecoming Dance will take place on Saturday, September 16th from 8:30-11:00 PM at a cost of $5 per person. No guests over the age of 20 will be allowed. All non-YHS students need to be registered on a "guest form" in the YHS office.