Tuesday, July 21, 2015

REAL Numbers about School Spending and Property Taxes

York Public Schools continues to work hard to prepare for an outstanding 2015-16 school year. This commentary is meant to provide our patrons with an update on what our new fiscal year will most likely look like. We have board meetings on August 10th and 24th at 7:00 PM where we will be discussing the budget and tax request for 2015-16. On Monday, September 14th, our school board will host budget and tax request hearings before formally considering and voting on the new budget and tax request. As always, patrons are invited and encouraged to attend.

Around the state there continues to be some false chatter about how public school districts overspend, overtax, and under-deliver. Over the past few months, various spokespersons, lobbyists, and organizations have intentionally singled out school districts as a major culprit for our state’s over-reliance on property taxes. I, for one, am tired of the rhetoric and the scare tactics. Public schools aren’t the problem. We have state mandated spending lids and levy lids that we have to operate within all the while being flexible enough to meet the needs of our ever-changing student demographics. We even get audited annually and are more than happy to deal with any level of accountability that comes our way.

A look at REAL numbers from 2014-15 and 2015-16 pertaining to school district tax requests, total revenue, and total spending
• State Aid for York Public Schools drops from $2,214,816 in 2014-15 to just $1,560,659 for 2015-16
o A decrease of $654,157
• Our general fund tax request is projected to increase from $10,049,495 in 2014-15 to $10,600,000 for 2015-16
o An increase of $550,506 that is a direct result of the $654,157 state aid loss
• Our TOTAL revenue looks to slightly increase from $15,500,000 in 2014-15 to $15,650,000 for 2015-16
o That’s right; the total increase in projected revenue for YPS is just $150,000 (.009%) for 2015-16 despite our property tax request increasing 5.5%.
• We are projecting to spend $15,300,000 during the 2014-15 fiscal year that ends on August 31st and $15,500,000 in 2015-16.
o This is a spending increase of just $200,000 (1.3%)

A look at REAL numbers over the past SEVEN YEARS from 2008-09 through 2015-16 Projections
• York Public School’s general fund property tax request will have grown from $7,067,000 to $10,600,000 over the past seven years for an increase of 50%.
o However, our TOTAL REVENUE will have only grown from $13,907,668 to $15,650,000; which is just 12.5% or an average annual growth of only 1.79%.
• We spent $13,813,663 in 2008-09 and are projected to spend $15,500,000 in 2015-16.
o This is just a 12.2% increase over seven years for an average annual growth of only 1.74%.
o Of this increased spending over the past seven years, $300,000 of it is for grant funded additions to early childhood programming and after-school offerings.
 If we wouldn’t have added $300,000 worth of grant funded programming, our total spending would’ve only increased 10% over seven years.

We think our numbers in York speak for themselves. We don’t feel like any business that increases their spending by only 1.7% annually should be classified as an “over spender.” If we’re over-taxing it is only because we have no other sources of revenue to work with. Our current system of school funding doesn’t seem to work that well right now for Nebraska.

We don’t feel we are “under-delivering” either. Over the past seven years, we’ve seen close to a 10% increase in the number of students we serve, and the percentage of our children living in poverty has moved to 45%. Despite this, our school system has been able to increase academic offerings and improve student achievement. We are now offering a game-changing “work certification” program through the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture where our students can earn a diploma and work certification in irrigation technology, diversified agriculture, or chemical application thanks to unique partnerships with Reinke and Central Valley Ag. The percentage of our students that are proficient on state assessments has escalated each year. Our students have some of the best scores in Nebraska on local, state, and national assessments.

We’re very proud to serve the students and patrons of York. We’re always a ‘work in progress’ and looking to get better. Our district-wide theme for 2015-16 is “Find a Way” and that’s what we’re going to continue to do. We’re going to “find a way” to get better for our students and our patrons. We’re going to find a way to keep making a difference!

Go Dukes,

Mike Lucas
402-362-6655 ext. 4

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Meaningful Communication is Important

One of the main things a superintendent has to focus on is communication. Here in York, we try to be as open and accessible as possible. Below is a recent response to a "Wonder Line" question that came into the York News-Times. Anonymous formats like the Wonder Line are certainly not our favorite mode of communication.

Please feel free to contact me directly with any concerns you may have. We take a lot of pride in servant leadership in support of our students, staff, parents, and patrons.

Q: I am wondering why the marquee signs at the middle and high schools are still running messages when school is not in session. How much is it costing the taxpayer to have these signs running during summer vacation?

York Public Schools doesn't have a summer vacation. Our marquee signs run 12 months a year because we're busy 12 months a year. We have numerous things going on throughout the summer. We have six weeks of summer school programming, drivers' education, enrichment camps, athletic camps, free lunch programs, board meetings, special education programming, early childhood offerings, and art academies to name just a few.

We are not sure of the exact utility costs just for the marquee signs to run in June and July. Our bill isn't broken down to that detail. So far, this fiscal year, we've spent $246,835 on utilities throughout YPS. This compares favorably to the $267,118 spent through this portion of last year's fiscal calendar. We began an intensive energy efficiency initiative in June 2009 and we now use, on average, 14% less KWH each month than we used to. Our utility costs have gone down as a result.

All in all, we're extremely proud that our overall spending has averaged LESS than a 1.6% annual increase in the past six years as well.

I much prefer one-on-one or small group conversations with those that have concerns as opposed to an anonymous format like the Wonderline that allows this question to give the perception that YPS isn't fiscally responsible when our expenditure data shows that our cost-per-pupil spending is extremely efficient and in the lowest 15% in the state.

My cell number is 402-366-6491. My office number is 402-362-6655 ext. 4. My email is mike.lucas@yorkdukes.org. My home address is 1622 North Delaware Avenue. I'd love to visit with you any time.

Go Dukes,
Mike Lucas

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

July, July, July

July is an interesting month. We put a lot of time and energy (as we should) into numerous 4th of July celebrations. Many people then turn their attention to August and the back to school craze. However, I've always found the "dog days" of July as a great time to put your head down and get a lot of work done.

Over the next three weeks, most of the YPS 2015-16 budget will be constructed. This will include the tax request levy and use of local, state, and federal dollars. We will provide the school board with a preliminary look at the 15-16 budget at our next meeting on July 13th. The budget will look very familiar as it is similar to years past. We will once again need to operate with a maxed out levy of $1.05. We are projecting to spend $15,500,000 and receive around $15,700,000. This could change in mid-August when our valuation increase gets certified.

Yes, August 13th will be here before we know it. However, there is still lots to do and thankfully the dog days of July will allow us to get ready for a sensational 2015-16 school year.

Go Dukes!