Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Nebraskans United for Property Tax Reform and Education

Today was a good day! We held a press conference at the Capitol in Lincoln to unveil an extremely large coalition that currently consists of agriculture and educational organizations. Below are our founding principles and current coalition members.

We have a lot of momentum built up and plan to continue to communicate at a high level about the need for adequate and sustainable funding of public education while reducing our over-reliance on local property taxes. The time is now. This has to be a top priority for lawmakers.

This coalition represents small business owners, homeowners, farmers, school leaders, and folks from Omaha to Chadron and all places in between. We account for over 98% of the school districts in Nebraska and over 60,000 landowners. This is a big deal and we're determined to work together to protect two of Nebraska's greatest assets....public education and agriculture production.

PRINCIPLE #1

Adequate and sustainable funding of high quality K-12 education is imperative for the future of Nebraska.

• A well-educated workforce is essential for economic development and a high quality of life.1

• Education reduces poverty, boosts economic growth and increases income. In sum, education is one of the most important investments a state can make in its people and its future.2

• Low levels of state funding for education is at the heart of Nebraska’s property tax issues, not school spending.3

PRINCIPLE #2

Tax reform which reduces the over-reliance on local property taxes is necessary to ensure our tax system is fair to all Nebraska taxpayers.

• Nebraska must reduce property taxes to ensure a fair and balanced tax system.

o Nebraska ranks 49th in the country in the percentage of K-12 funding that comes from the state.4

o Nebraskans pays the 7th highest effective property tax rate in the nation.5

• To fund the state budget, we need a tax system that is fair and balanced for all Nebraska taxpayers. Nebraska’s taxpayers need a significant reduction in property taxes.

o Nebraska K-12 schools receive 33% of their funding from state sources while the national average is 47%.6

o Nebraska K-12 schools receive 49% of their funding from local property taxes while the national average is 29%.6


Coalition Members


Nebraska Farm Bureau
Nebraska Fair
Nebraska Council of School Administrators
Nebraska Corn Growers Association
Nebraska State Education Association
Reform for Nebraska’s Future
Nebraska Rural Community Schools Association
Nebraska Farmers Union
Women Involved in Farm Economics
Nebraska Soybean Association
Gage County Property Tax Group
Nebraska Pork Producers
Nebraska Wheat Growers
Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska
Schools Taking Action for Nebraska Children’s Education
Greater Nebraska Schools Association

1 Educational Attainment as an Economic Driver for States, Regions and Communities; Larry Good and Jeannine La Prad - Corporation for a Skilled Workforce, Michigan State University, 2013.

2 The economic case for education, Ludger Woessmann, University of Munich, Journal of Education Economics, 2016.

3 Property Tax Truth, NSEA Voice Magazine, February, 2017. Property Taxes, State Aid and School Spending, NSEA Research, January, 2017; Data Source: Nebraska Department of Education Annual Finance Reports of School Districts, 1995-96 to 2015-16.

4 https://www2.census.gov/govs/school/14f33pub.pdf U.S. Census Bureau, Public Education Finance Report, June, 2016.

5 How High Are Property Taxes in Your State? Tax Foundation, July, 2016; Data Source - 2014 American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau data.

6 U.S. Census Bureau, Public Education Finance, 2016 – Based on 2014 Survey Data.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Onslaught is REAL

I've blogged and written about the "attack on public education" quite often over the past few years...probably too much, to be honest. Some people have labeled me as paranoid or just a hired gun that's trying to protect a cushy, easy job...to each their own.

I've received a death threat, nasty social media messages, vile emails, and hate letters in my mailbox. That's all fine and dandy because with each passing day, I become more and more convinced that the onslaught is real.

Yesterday was a perfect example. Governor Ricketts came to York for a "town hall meeting." During his informative talk, he spoke of the state's budget, plans for property tax relief, and ways to make Nebraska better for all of us. His speech was well done.

He didn't mention anything about York Public Schools during his talk to the crowd yesterday, although he has mentioned YPS in a negative light in these same speeches in Seward, Crete, and other locations. In previous speeches, he made the claim that York Public Schools misused the Qualified Capital Purpose Fund and we're an example of why that levy limit needed to be dropped from 5.2 cents to 3.0 cents with recent legislation.

His office didn't seem to know what all went in to our use of the QCPUF during YHS construction. They didn't know we worked with legal counsel and Ameritas Investments. I shared that info with his aide yesterday as we have nothing to hide. We had to access some already collected QCPUF funds because construction bids came in 20% higher than we were told they would. We had to keep our promise to taxpayers about the tax levy so we scrambled to make use of dollars we had access to without requesting additional tax money. We had to take out a 7-year lease agreement that we pay off with building fund dollars. It wasn't and isn't ideal but we were very transparent about it and shared a detailed update in the York News Time in March 2014.

Despite us having an average annual spending increase of just 1.5% over the past 8-years, he told a farmer in a one-on-one conversation after the meeting that York Public Schools spends too much money and that's why our local property taxes are so high. He chose to reference our spending increase between 2013-14 and 2014-15 when we increased spending by $1 million because of our construction "issues" at YHS, adding $250,000 worth of grant-funded early childhood programming, and finally spending a little bit of money on technology, curriculum updates, and vehicle replacements that had been pushed to the side for years. Yes, we did have a big spending increase in 2014-15. However, what was failed to be mentioned, was our 8-year average is 1.5% and we spent the same amount of money in 2015-16 as we did in 2014-15.

When an organization as large as YPS, which operates a $16.5 million budget, can average only 1.5% in average spending, they shouldn't be ridiculed. What is really sad is that we've been doing what the Governor wants the state to do. He talked about controlling spending and he's proud that the state has gone from 6% to 3.5% growth. We have controlled our spending and continue to do so. We're on pace to spend less in 2016-17 than we did in 2015-16, which was the same amount we spent in 2014-15.

Our average increase in annual revenue over the last eight years has been just 2% but due to declining state and federal monies, our local property tax request has gone up by an average of 8%. School Spending is NOT the reason we have high property taxes. The way our schools are funded is the culprit.

School spending is under attack. We're made out to be the bad guy because "the state doesn't levy property taxes." Well, when the state doesn't provide adequate funding for schools, they have no other choice but to levy property taxes. The state gladly lets soaring land valuation dollars replace the state's commitment to funding schools.

Even if YPS cut out another $1 million from our budget, that wouldn't solve our "property tax issue." Check this stat....if our property tax request for 2016-17 was $1 MILLION LESS than it really is, that would still be a 50% increase in the past seven years. Does that fix our over-reliance on property taxes? NO!

It's a funding problem and not a spending problem.





Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Random Thoughts

This week's blog is simply just going to be some random thoughts on a wide variety of topics...nothing earth-shattering at all...

* I'm very proud of the YHS Speech Team and the great start to their season they've had. This crew works extremely hard and I'm excited to see all they can accomplish this year. As with most teams, I hope they enjoy the journey and process and let the results take care of themselves.

* YHS Wrestling is having a strong season and flying a bit under the radar in my opinion, which is a good thing. I can tell you this, the boys won't be outworked and they'll be ready for February. I can't wait to watch them compete over the next few weeks. District and State Wrestling are two of my favorite events of the year.

* We're very fortunate here in York to have so many amazing partnerships and community support. Just yesterday, I was at YHS and was amazed to see the awesome "STEM Modules" that NPPD has brought in to help teach our new Technical Math class under the guidance of Rich Saxer.

* Congrats to the York Bowling Teams for qualifying for state. Although it is not a sanctioned school activity, we are very proud of these kids for their accomplishments and we wish them well at state!

* The York Girls' Basketball game vs. Norris on January 21st was as good of a game as I've seen in years. The Dukes have had a great season so far and are poised for big things in the weeks ahead. It will be a fun home stretch with lots of big match-ups!

* I've been lucky to visit our after-school program at YES a few times over the last couple of weeks. We have between 90-100 children that stay with us after-school to work on homework, academic assistance, and enrichment through club activities. Many of these kiddos stay with us until 5:00 or 5:30. I'm thankful for the dedicated staff that works with them day in and day out.

* YMS is a fun place to visit. I love the enthusiasm and energy that you fee from students and staff. The middle school years are such an important time in the development of our youth and I'm thankful for the true middle school concept we've been able to hang onto over the years.

* The York Boys' Basketball team has been in a bit of a slump but I promise you this, they will be ready and play their best basketball come district tournament time. I get the sense some folks around the conference, district, and state have written our boys off....man, do that at your own risk. These guys will get it going. Duke Pride doesn't go away after a few losses.

* The Enrichment Center is doing well in its new location. We have students working on credit recovery and staff helping them set and achieve measurable goals on a weekly basis.

* Our birth-to-five programming remains extremely vital to the success of our school district and community. These staff members are primarily behind the scenes but they do important work with our youngest learners and their families.

* We love our important "support staff" at YPS. We will be having an appreciation open house on February 22nd for them. Stay tuned for more info!

* The 100th day of school at YES was a blast! It's so fun and encouraging to see all of the amazing things our students and staff get done at York Elementary.

GO DUKES!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

School Choice

School Choice is Alive and Well in Nebraska…Privatization of Education is NOT

January 22-28 is “National School Choice Week” and I’m very proud of all the school choices we already offer in Nebraska. According to data from the Nebraska Department of Education, we currently have…
• 22,148 students using their “option enrollment choice” throughout the state. Within YPS, we have students from seven school districts that use their option in or out choice with us. We currently have about 30 more students that option in as opposed to optioning out. By the way, many states don’t offer option enrollment options like we do here in the Cornhusker state.
• 37,762 students using their “non-public school choice” with an estimated 8,290 of them being “home-schooled.” YPS has about 34 home-schooled students living within our boundaries and we have a tremendous relationship with Emmanuel-Faith Lutheran and St. Joseph’s Catholic as we help provide them with many services and support for the important work they do in the parochial school sector.

I’ve always been for “choice” but can never see being for “privatization” where individuals, donors, investment groups, politicians, and others try to turn education into a “for profit” business venture using state dollars for charter schools, vouchers, and opportunity scholarships. What worries me about “school choice” groups are that some of them don’t tell you they’re really about “privatization,” exclusion of others, and making a profit; while shouldering zero accountability to local taxpayers.

Some of these groups try to tell you public schools over-spend and under-deliver but that’s not the case here in Nebraska, although that is sadly true in some states across our nation.
• Nebraska has one of the highest graduation rates in the country at 89%. York’s rate is around 93%.
• Nebraska students excel on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessments on an annual basis and are currently in the top 12 states in all categories. York students excel on local, state, and national assessments.
• Nebraska students have the highest average ACT score in the nation for the 15+ states that have 80% or more of their students taking it. York’s average is even higher than our state average.

I'm opposed to taking funds away from public schools for choice/privatization efforts like charter schools, vouchers, and opportunity scholarships. Nebraska already ranks 49th in the nation for the percentage of its state budget that gets allocated to K-12 education. We already have way too much of an over-reliance on local property taxes to fund the schools we currently have.

I think it would be a tremendous mistake to offer up money from the limited state budget we have to enhance privatization/choice options like charter schools with vouchers and opportunity scholarships that don’t have the same accountability that public schools have to follow. They don’t have to have publicly elected boards, don’t have to have annual audits, don’t have to adhere to open meeting laws, manage spending lids, and they get to pick and choose which students they serve, while public schools gladly welcome one and all.

Choice/Privatization options don’t have to adhere to state mandated assessment guidelines. They don’t have any of the transparency or accountability your public schools do. They get to take who they want, do what they want, and spend state money while likely damaging the public school system through even less funding.

It’s really that simple to me. If they want to use state dollars, they need to follow state guidelines like public schools do. Otherwise, “choice” really means specialized schools and voucher programs “choosing” who they will serve, how they will serve them, while not being held accountable to the public.

This isn’t Florida where I’m from. This isn’t Detroit or Atlanta or Washington, D.C. We’re not Los Angeles or Chicago or New York City either. Our schools are working here in York and all throughout NEBRASKA. Let’s focus on supporting the choices we already have here with outstanding parochial and non-public schools, home school options, and public school option enrollment.

Education should not be for sale in Nebraska.



Tuesday, January 17, 2017

ACADEMICS are ALWAYS our TOP PRIORITY

We're in the midst of a parent/community/student survey about whether or not to move forward with the potential addition of baseball as a spring sport at YHS. Several of the comments on the survey are geared to us needing to focus more on academics. I get that. Academic opportunities and achievement are always our top priority, although school activities often get much more publicity and attention on social media.

It's just the way it is but your state champion One-Act program is going to get more attention than 4th period biology classes. Your district champion softball team is going to be in the newspaper more than our coding clubs at YES and YMS. More people are going to show up to volleyball, football, wrestling, tennis, and basketball events than they do to see work certification offerings in our business department. That doesn't mean that academics aren't our #1 priority.

I'm not complaining at all because we believe in trying to be the best in academics, fine arts, athletics, and extra-curriculars. That's what York deserves. I am in charge of the YPS Facebook page and Twitter account. When I post pictures and posts on Facebook about academic programming, show kids working hard in math, social studies, or science classes we will get a few comments and likes, which is nice. When we post the results from a soccer game, wrestling invite, or speech tournament, we will get much more attention. It is what it is and that's not unique to York.

Below is a brief rundown of just some of the academic programs we’ve added here in York just over the past few years, while keeping our average annual spending growth at 1.5%. We are ever-changing and improving and need to continue to do so to offer our students as many high quality choices as possible.
• Work certification in irrigation technology and chemical application
• Agronomy Academy and 12 other Career Academies for juniors and seniors to choose from
• Microsoft Office certification
• Animal Science lab and courses at YMS and YHS
• Greenhouse and Plant Science curriculum at YMS and YHS
• Welding and Precision Farming course updates
• Coding Clubs at YES and YMS
• Robotics at YMS and YHS
• Internships at York General Hospital and Truck Center Companies
• Entrepreneurship Academies
• Technical Math at YHS
• Drama Course at YMS
• Tripled our Personal Finance Business course offerings
• Invention Convention and Math Counts Teams at YES and YMS
• Media Productions
• Graphic Design
• Social and Emotional developmental courses at YES
• Reading and Math Strategies courses at YMS and YHS

Rest assured, our primary focus is always on academics.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Random Thoughts about the Legislative Session

Below are just some of my thoughts regarding the important and sometimes, difficult conversations and legislative action taking place in Lincoln. I realize very, very few people care about what some yahoo in York thinks, but here it goes....

1) Adequate and sustainable funding of K-12 education is imperative for the future of Nebraska.

2) Nebraska’s over-reliance on property taxes is NOT a school spending problem, it is a school funding problem.

3) Tax reform which reduces the over-reliance on local property taxes is necessary to balance the tax burden for all Nebraska citizens.

4) The national average of K-12 funding that comes from state sources is 47%, while Nebraska K-12 schools only receive 33% of their funding from state sources.

5) The national average of K-12 funding that comes from local property taxes is 29%, while here in Nebraska, that figure is sky-high at 49% due to our flawed system.

6) “Balancing” the state’s budget by slowing and cutting aid to K-12 schools only serves to increase our state’s over-reliance on local property taxes.

7) For this 2016-17 school year, 170 of the state’s 245 school districts are non-equalized as they receive no equalization aid because the TEEOSA formula says they have enough “local resources” (property taxes) to educate their children.

8) Nebraska’s public schools are producing tremendous outcomes and are the envy of many states. However, we still need to improve every day, every week, every month, and every year!

9) Nebraska’s high school graduation rate is one of the highest in the country and continues to be well-above the national average (88.9%). (Source: National Center for Education Statistics. Common Core of Data)

10) A large percent of Nebraska students take the ACT college entrance exam and score above the national average. With 88% of 11th graders taking the ACT, the average score was 21.5, ranking #1 among the 15+ states where most students take the ACT. (Source: ACT, 2015)

11) 69% of Nebraska high school graduates go to college, ranking 7th for the highest college-going rate nationally (Source: Nebraska Department of Education, 2016).

12) In a time where most seem to thirst for “change,” public schools are doing more with less in an ever-changing environment…career academies, before and after school programming, entrepreneurship offerings, summer enrichment, and so much more…we change and improve each year...

13) Yet challenges remain. Our economy is changing and schools must evolve to create the workforce of the future that will meet the needs of our state’s economy and allow our communities to thrive.

14) Too many of our students are facing a real and growing opportunity gap that our public schools must address to provide a high-quality education for all Nebraska students.

15) We need to expand our offerings of evidence-based strategies to support a high-quality education for all Nebraska children.
-- Early childhood education
-- Expanded learning opportunities
-- Career Education System
-- Nutrition

16) Many of us in the K-12 sector worry about some state leader’s apparent willingness to open the door for the privatization of public education...

17) If our state budget is unable to adequately fund K-12 education as it is, thus forcing school districts to be over-reliant on local property taxes, why would we look to provide state dollars for “school choice” options that don’t have the same levels of transparency and accountability that we have with publicly elected board members, annual audits, assessment requirements, and acceptance of any and all students, and so on?

18) We will hear more and more about "school choice" and how Nebraska must find a way to offer more "choices" when, quite often, what is meant, but not said, is these "choice" leaders want to privatize education to make it into a business....We already have numerous school choice options....according to data from the Nebraska Dept of Education....
-- We have 22,148 students that are using their option enrollment choice this 2016-17 school year
-- We have approximately 8,290 students using their home school choice this 2016-17 school year
-- We have thousands more students using their parochial school choice in numerous communities across the state as well

I wish the state senators the best of luck as they work hard to address the numerous important issues that face our state.





Monday, January 2, 2017

"Nothing"

"To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing" is a famous quote from Elbert Hubbard. I've always loved this saying and used to have it as a tag-line on my emails along with "Talk doesn't cook rice" before I learned of the wonderful world of customized GIF's that jump and down and say "Go Dukes!"

Hubbard's quote is about courage, if you ask me. I think another way to twist his popular saying is that it takes courage to say something, to do something, and to face criticism. It takes bravery to put your neck on the line. It takes "onions" to stand for something. It takes toughness to deal with backlash.

We're at a time in Nebraska where we need all hands on deck to help support public education. We need all school leaders, board members, parents, and patrons to "say something" and "do something" as we battle funding cuts, inaccurate statements from elected officials about the cause of high property taxes, and continued attempts to privatize public education. We need action. We can't afford to say nothing and do nothing or we will be left with nothing as we know it.

As 2017 gets going this week, think about what you are willing and able to do. Think about how much courage you have and what level of risks you're willing to take. January is going to be an extremely important month for education in Nebraska. We need to come together, stay together, and work together to do "something."