SPS to receive historic state aid funding


Seward Public Schools will receive approximately $2.4 million in state aid for the 2023-24 school year, lowering its reliance on property taxpayers to meet its budget needs.

The district’s total tax ask is proposed at $15.3 million, or about $810 per $100,000 of property valuation.

The board of education will hold its budget hearing beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 11, at the district office, 410 South St. The hearing is the public’s opportunity to speak on budget matters before the board votes to approve the final budget later that night.

The increase in state aid is because of Legislative Bill 583, passed in May, that provides $1,500 per student in foundation aid to each public school district in Nebraska.

Last year, SPS received just $288,134 in state aid based on the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act, originally enacted in 1990. The TEEOSA formula was meant to level the playing field when it came to tax levies for school districts across the state, but it didn’t always work as intended.

While the board of education has not yet approved the proposed budget, SPS Superintendent Dr. Josh Fields said the foundation aid will allow a 13-cent decrease in the general fund tax levy as proposed.

“It has made a huge difference with the additional $2.2 million in foundation aid this year,” Fields said. “We were able to lower our general fund by almost $1.6 million. We typically raise our budget $700,000-$800,000 a year. When you add that, we’re close to that $2.2 million then that we’re able to save taxpayers this year.”

Property valuation in the SPS district now totals $1,896,876,595, a 6.93% increase over last year.

As proposed, the district’s general fund tax levy will be 81 cents, down from almost 95 cents last year and the lowest it has been over the past 20 years.

“We felt as a board that we’ve utilized those foundation aid dollars from the governor and legislature to really lower property taxes for our patrons,” Fields said.

LB 583 also requires the state Department of Education to reimburse each school district 80% of allowable costs for special education programs and support services.

“We’ll have some special education dollars coming, about 40% more than we have in years past,” Fields said, though that dollar amount won’t be known until later this fall.

Fields said the district’s bond fund will remain about the same at $1,600,000 with a $1.56 million payment due this year for the current middle school building. That bond will be paid off in 2027.

The district also holds a Qualified Capital Purposes Undertaking Fund bond with about $135,000 remaining. The bond was for abatement and roofing issues associated with the most recent elementary school addition.

“We did not have to ask for any money this year because that will be paid off in December,” Fields said.

The proposed budget includes a special building fund levy of less than 1 cent – about $150,000 – for roof repairs, resurfacing of the preschool playground and finishing the carpet replacement at the elementary school.

Fields said the board has tried to keep building fund costs low, but replacing systems in a school is more expensive than most people realize.

“If a hot water heater goes out in your home, it’s maybe $5,000. If it goes out at a school, it’s $50,000,” he said. “Our board has always been very consistent in staying within the taxing component we have. We’ve kept our levy very low. We’ve done a nice job getting what we needed but at the same time being very conservative.”

In 2021, SPS ranked 20th in the lowest expenditures per pupil out of 144 public school districts in the state.

Some of the largest increases in the proposed budget are tied to higher health insurance costs and salaries for teachers and education support professionals.

“To be competitive with classified staff with our hourly rate, as well as with our certified staff, we have to do our best to stay with the market, and those things come with costs,” Fields said.

The district continues to see inflated costs in supplies as well, from fuel and food to paper and shipping.

The district has approximately $30,000 left in its Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund, which came from federal COVID-19 relief actions. Fields said the rest of those funds will be spent on summer school in 2024.