Neb. property owners burdened with school funding | TSLN.com

Neb. property owners burdened with school funding

Boone Huffman
Chadron School Board member

Editor's note: Huffman shared this during a press conference at the state capitol Feb. 21.

My name is Boone Huffman and I am a board member for Chadron Public Schools. I write this to tell a story from where we started, to where we are now, and where we are headed in this current education climate. As a youth, I was educated in a one room school in McPherson County. Where our parents fed us breakfast, packed us a lunch, fed us a snack and provided our own afterschool program. Local community members came in and taught us the fine arts of music, art, and theater. We put on a Christmas program that was actually about Christmas without the threats of a lawsuit.

I write this as a past free lunch student that stood in an isolated lunch line after the agricultural crisis of the 1980s. This led to my parents' divorce and forced our family to move to Chadron. From those early experiences, I knew my only way out of poverty was through education and I would be the first to ever attain a college degree in my family. I was blessed to be surrounded by amazing teachers and coaches at Chadron Public Schools that believed in my skills and didn't judge me by how I was dressed or who my parents were in the community. Through their encouragement and hard work, I attained a full ride scholarship and went on to graduate from college with a degree in secondary education teaching the natural sciences.

I write this from that boy who was desperate to succeed. Education for me, in this great state of Nebraska, was the avenue I needed for success. I also write this to make a call for Tax and Education Funding Reform. I am now a business owner who pays local property, state income, state and city sales, personal property, and state payroll taxes. As a ridden-hard tax payer, I am desperate to ensure our schools are funded fully by the state. The students that follow in my footsteps in schools all across Nebraska are also desperate for the same opportunity at a quality education that I had. I am a father of 5, ages 16 to 4, and I have true worries about how we are going to fund their education under the current TEEOSA formula. When I first came onto the BOE, I assumed as a business owner, that I would find many areas that I could cut the pork out of the budget. On the other hand, what I found was shocking; it was a budget that is nearing the status of bare bones.

Folks, our schools are at a tipping point, and I cannot stress that enough. For the first time in Nebraska's proud track record in education, the actual education of our students is in danger of declining. The reason that we need reform right now is that State Aid is NOT keeping pace with the spending that state law mandates to our districts. Chadron Public Schools lost $1.6 million dollars in state funding in 2011. That loss in state dollars led to the immediate loss of 15 permanent positions and other structural budget cuts to our district. Today, Chadron Public Schools has the same revenue of roughly $10.5 million that was generated 10 years ago in face of today's exploding health care costs, and the rising annual inflation on goods and services necessary to support the district. Between 2011 and 2016, Chadron has had to cut 19 teachers, 10 paras, and consolidated administrators due to lack of state aid causing budget restrictions. How many other schools have had to do the same thing? Can you tell me how that is going to help increase our children's education?

State aid has decreased 1.5 percent per year, federal and other revenue has decreased 4.3 percent per year, while local property taxes have risen at an alarming 7 percent over the last 10 years. All this while Chadron Public Schools has held their budget in check with a 1.2 percent rise in spending per year over the same time period. Amazingly, our teachers association negotiated to NOT take a raise in base salary notably due to the rising outside costs to the district. Nebraska's Superintendent of the Year, our Dr. Winchester, is the next lowest paid superintendent in our array of schools, with the lowest being a brand new hire in their first year of administration. We are not OVERSPENDING. Again, speaking for Chadron Public Schools, we are not OVERSPENDING. To the contrary, our students are excelling in academic prowess in contests across the state while the facilities are growing weary under the pressure of unfunded mandates.

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Because of a lack of funding, we are being forced to neglect our buildings and grounds with over 10 million of needed updates and repairs. This is being done in order to keep the education of our students at a high level. While Chadron Public Schools state aid has decreased by $1 million the past 6 years, state aid to Omaha and Lincoln area schools has risen by $132 million and $80 million respectively. Why are the children of western Nebraska not as important as our Omaha and Lincoln students? Why should the farm population of roughly 5.5 percent in the state, shoulder 48 percent of the valuation? We are only a couple years away if commodity prices stay as they are that we are going to endure a financial crisis in the ag sector not seen since the 1980's. Then what are we going to do when valuations drop in half? The small agriculture population is shouldering the lion's share of education in Nebraska. We have recently seen what happens to state income tax receipts when you have a 50 percent decline of on-farm income over a 4 year period. Chadron voters have spoken clearly in recent elections. They defeated a bond proposal based on property taxes to update the schools soundly. Following the defeat, they went on to pass a sales tax increase to build a new indoor water park facility. The issue is with property tax relief, not income and sales tax. We have already waited too long, action, not words are needed now.

Surrounding states have led the way in tax reform and alternative ways to fund their education system while Nebraska drags behind. They have done this without strapping the burden to the property owners of their respective states. New state sales taxes have provided the needed funding. In Tennessee, a state a little further away, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam in his state of the state address, announced one of the largest funding increases for education in Tennessee history. He stated that Tennessee has shown it will not balance the budget on the backs of teachers and students.

As I have visited with land owners across Western Nebraska, it is not that they are not willing to help fund their schools; it is that they are tired of doing it mostly alone. When they see the statistics that in the past 10 years, property taxes have risen 176 percent on ag land, 98 percent on ag personal property, but only 35 percent on residential and commercial property, they say enough is enough. The educational funding system clearly needs to be revenue neutral based on the three legged stool approach of property, income, and sales taxes. No one leg should carry over a third of the burden.

In closing, there is no other issue looming as large as this one. We are asking you to support Nebraskans United for Tax Reform and Education. This coalition is determined to provide and fight for solutions that others do not have the courage or will to do. Chadron Public Schools is proud to be part of this coalition. Nebraska the Good Life is in jeopardy. As our schools go, so goes our state. It is up to us to protect those that cannot protect themselves. Our coalition is expressing the need for this dire change now before permanent damage is done to the ones we love and care about the most, THE CHILDREN OF GREATER NEBRASKA!

Nebraskans United for Property Tax Reform & Education Coalition:

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 Assoc. 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

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