Neligh-Oakdale is losing nearly $315,000 in state aid next year, and tax payers will have to make up the lost funding.
While Neligh-Oakdale scrambles for funding, its neighbor to the south - Elgin Public School - will receive nearly $50,000 more next year for a total of over $215,000 in state assistance. That increase comes primarily from more students opting into the Elgin district.
State aid numbers for schools for 2015-16 was recently certified.
According to the Nebraska Department of Education, Neligh-Oakdale will lose $314,343 in state aid next year, falling to a mere $15,187 overall. Elgin will receive nearly $200,000 next year from Net Option Funding, which helps districts financially when more students opt into their district than those who opt out. That gives Elgin $215,366 overall in state aid.
No other school in Antelope County receives any Net Option Funding. Elgin will receive an additional $52,319 next year for option students for a total of $196,506.
The Nebraska Legislature approves the state aid certification formula annually, which boils down to a school district’s available funds thanks to property taxes minus their needs. However, the formula itself isn’t that simple and takes in consideration everything from limited English proficiency, special education and transportation to enrollment, property taxes and option students.
Elkhorn Valley and Nebraska Unified (Clearwater-Orchard-Verdigre) will also see a decrease next year in state aid, but not as dramatic as Neligh-Oakdale. Elkhorn Valley will only receive $9,796 (loss of $59,479) while the Unified district will receive $9,046 (loss of $53,393).
Explaining Neligh-Oakdale’s Loss
Property taxes and land valuations are the main reason Neligh-Oakdale is losing nearly all of its state aid next year, according to Superintendent Kimberly Lingenfelter.
Land value increased 38 percent across Antelope County in 2014, which means the district should have the funds available to run the school without assistance from the state. However, Lingenfelter said the formula doesn’t take in consideration the facility challenges facing Neligh-Oakdale.
While it may appear Neligh-Oakdale has “more money available due to land valuations,” Lingenfelter said that does not mean the district can spend more money. State laws allow a school district to increase its spending by just 1 1/2 percent next year.
Unless state rules and regulations change, Neligh-Oakdale will be allowed to increase its budget by about $95,000 in 2015-16.
Losing nearly $315,000 presents a challenge for Neligh-Oakdale as it continues to search for funding alternatives to correct orders from the state fire marshal’s office. The district put forth a bond issue in November to finance fixing the school, but voters disagreed and the bond failed.
“Because of land valuations' projected increase, I expect the district to have enough funding for the general budget next year,” Lingenfelter said. “As for facility expenses, that will depend on how the board proceeds and if the state legislature changes the percentage of valuation for agricultural land.”
If state senators change the percentage of valuation from 75 percent for ag land to 65 percent, Neligh-Oakdale could lose about $1 million.
At last month’s meeting, the Neligh-Oakdale Board of Education approved a plan of correction; however, the Building and Grounds Committee said they did not have a plan on how Neligh-Oakdale would pay for the state-ordered improvements, which included installing fire sprinklers, fire doors and new windows, among other items.
Like all schools in the county, Neligh-Oakdale significantly lowered its levy for the 2014-15 general budget, due to the increase in valuations. But Lingenfelter said major building projects cannot be funded from the general budget. State law requires taxes to be levied for specific uses, and money from a school’s general budget cannot legally be used from major building projects, like installing fire sprinklers or fire doors, unless the board approves a lease-purchase option.
Explaining Elgin’s Gain
Although property tax asking, which is referred to as the school’s levy, can greatly effect state aid, Elgin’s increase next year can be attributed mostly to increased enrollment, more specifically students who do not live in the Elgin school district.
The Department of Education uses a formula to calculate enrollment, which is not as simple as counting students. Elgin had 168.08 students for this year’s aid and shows 181.59 for next year’s aid certification.
Considering the size of Elgin, the increase of 13 1/2 students represents an 8 percent increase in enrollment. Still, their New Option Funding increased by 36 percent due to the number of the students who opted into Elgin.
Even though Elgin received an additional $1,917,158 in property taxes because valuations increased, the enrollment increase indicates the district needs more funding than before - although Elgin has more than $1.1 million in available property taxes than Neligh-Oakdale.
Elgin’s land district is also larger than Neligh-Oakdale’s and extends nearly to the Neligh city limits, ending near Sargent Irrigation south of Neligh.
Because of Elgin’s large district, its total levy for 2014-15 is $.48. That compares to $.98 for Neligh-Oakdale, $.88 for Nebraska Unified and $.80 for Elkhorn Valley.
The Department of Education also compares funding per student. Elgin spends an average of $19,980.44 to educate each student while Elkhorn Valley spends $15,621.82, Nebraska Unified spends $17,102.81 and Neligh-Oakdale spends $14,312.46.
In comparing land valuations for the district: Nebraska Unified District ($941,130,014), Elkhorn Valley (653,878,919), Elgin ($644,430,901) and Neligh-Oakdale ($530,462,460).