Westside Community Schools Bond Issue
“Shall Douglas County School District No. 66 (Westside Community Schools), in the State of Nebraska (the “District”) issue general obligation bonds of the District in an aggregate stated principal amount not to exceed One Hundred Twenty-One Million Dollars ($121,000,000), for the purpose of financing the costs of the following: continued safety and security enhancements; improving technology infrastructure of existing school buildings; and constructing capital improvements, additions, renovations, and replacements of existing school buildings and furnishing and equipping the same; such bonds to be issued from time to time, to be sold at such price or prices, to bear interest at such rate or rates, to become due at such time or times and to have such other terms and provisions, all as may be fixed and determined by the Board of Education of the District; and
“Shall the District cause to be levied and collected annually a special levy of taxes against all the taxable property in the District sufficient in rate and amount to pay the principal of, the premium, if any, and the interest on such Bonds as the same become due?”
( ) FOR such Bonds and Tax
( ) AGAINST such Bonds and Tax
Generally speaking, school districts have three funds – General, Building, and Bond. All income of course comes from local property taxes (and sometimes from the State). The General Fund, that pays teachers, administrators, other staff and the power bill has a “levy” with a limit established by the state, but if voters approve they can do an override allowing more taxes to be collected. Westside voters have repeatedly authorized a 15-cent override. The Building Fund acquires its money by collecting tax to pay for bonds over time. [It should be noted that as house valuations have been increasing, the School has decreased the levy for four years in a row.. The school district levy is currently 9.9 cents lower than it was in 2019.]
Over ten years ago, the estimated 15-year project began with a major evaluation of all the school properties. This bond is Phase II of a 3-phase plan. The first Phase was for $79.9 million, which passed in 2015. The main focus of that effort resulted in safety upgrades on all the elementary schools and Westside Middle School. It also served to reveal the need to reconsider how much to renovate and how much to build new. Ideally those lessons will help in doing Phase II.
If voters approve the $121 million bond, which will add about $98 (a tad over $8/month) for a $200,000 valued house, three of the oldest buildings will be replaced with new schools, including the original Loveland built in 1932. When it was determined that attempting to repair and upgrade the schools would cost 80-93% of building new, it made sense to have new facilities that would last longer into the future.
Besides new schools for Westgate, Hillside and Loveland Elementaries, Phase II would include additional safety and security enhancements, repairs at Westbrook Elementary, Westside Middle and High School; a new storm shelter, gym and early childhood areas at Paddock Road and Rockbrook Elementaries; handicap accessibility at the Admin building, and needs at Underwood Hills Early Childhood Center. Also included in the bond is payment for the Project Advocates company who has done the evaluating and planning; as well as some “escalation” costs for the unexpected and unknown potential increases.
The new buildings are designed to include some flexible learning spaces that have been shown to aid in education. The old fashioned gymatorium-cafeteria that served those several purposes has created limitations on indoor recess on cold days, and difficulty in scheduling music, PE, art, etc. all needing the same room for different purposes.
More details from the School District are at https://www.westside66.org/domain/629.
Those who oppose the bond issue would like to see less “fluff” in all the current educational “fads.” Some think it would be more cost effective to build fewer buildings. Others who oppose the issue find the renovating so recently and then tearing down those same schools as a waste of money. Others wonder how much additional money are they allocated in taxes that could be used to offset the additional projected bond value. Still others may see the value in upgrading/replacing some of the schools, but they don’t like the Early Childhood Center taking away from young children being able to learn at home.
Those who support the bond issue want to keep the phases going and are pleased with the rather insignificant amount of increase in taxes. They like the value of true neighborhood schools and don’t want to have bigger buildings.
There is no in-person voting. Voters must sign the back of their return envelope in order for the ballot to be counted. Ballots have been mailed to all residents and the ballots must be mailed in time, or turned in to the Douglas County Election office or designated drop boxes (Election office and Asian Market) by May 9, 2023.
A “yes” vote will obligate the property owners to pay increased taxes to pay for the Phrase II projects, although the $121 million will not be borrowed all at once.
A “no” vote would mean Phase II could not begin immediately. Likely the School Board would request another bond issue within 6 months, though they might decrease the requested amount.