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Heartland School Board Grapples With How to Move Forward After Failed Tax Authority Request


It’s not an easy time to be a member of the Heartland School board as they try to move forward after the special election for increasing the district’s tax authority failed. Read here for a previous post explaining why the gap financing was needed and the effects of the failed special election on Heartland’s building project. 

Superintendent Klein put some options on the table for the board to consider at their regular September 11 board meeting. One option would be to consider another attempt to pass the increased tax authority at the regular in-person election held in May.  In hindsight, he believes they were hampered by having such a short window of time to educate and inform voters about the importance of passing the resolution. 

The board discussed the need for this increased tax authority even if there wasn’t a building project. “This legislation has taken away our ability to do what we need to do when we need to do it. We are being penalized because we had a low levy, so now we can’t go any higher,” said Klein. 

They discussed how just normal operations from year to year would be affected by this limitation because of increased costs due to inflation, new hires, raising teachers’ salaries, vehicles, and many more annual expenditures. 

At its regular meeting on September 11, the board adopted a resolution by a unanimous vote to increase the district’s base growth percentage used to determine their property tax request authority by up to 7%. The new legislation had capped the district’s revenue growth at approximately 3 1/4%; the resolution allowed the board to raise its revenue growth by up to another 7%. It is for one year only and gives Heartland a little breathing room, according to Klein. 

The board also discussed at its September 25th meeting potential steps that would begin the process of collapsing the 7-year gap lease financing agreement that was already in place with $5.6 million borrowed back in April. 

“It’s not fiscally responsible for us to keep paying interest on this money that we don’t even know when we will be able to spend it. Because of this legislation, we have no ability to pay it back according to the schedule,” said Board President Gary Braun. 

The board instructed Superintendent Klein to work with the lenders, and they will possibly act on officially ending the financing as early as their next regular board meeting on October 9.

There was much discussion about how the original $7 million bond project was designed and reasons why the bids came in so much higher than what the architects and engineers had drawn up. 

“We have plans drawn up for a $11.6 million project, not a $7 million dollar one,” said Klein. He is working with Pieper Sandall, looking at several scenarios for the project. “Going forward, we are examining future cost expectations, project adjustments, and possible ways to scale down the project or combine different aspects of it,” said Klein.  He hopes to have more details to present to the board at their October meeting. 

Board member Ryan Goertzen brought up the idea of going ahead and building the daycare since it was a separate bond passed. The consensus of the board was that it wasn’t a good idea to move forward until they had more information about the entire project’s future. 

Board members discussed the legality of what the Nebraska legislation has done and how it will continue to make it difficult for small schools to control their destiny. It was also mentioned that there might be more bad legislation coming in the future. 

The Heartland board is definitely facing a ticking clock, especially if they decide to have another go at presenting the increased tax authority resolution to the voters in May. They agreed that voter support is crucial for how the district will manage fiscally with these new constraints. Their next meeting is Monday, October 9, at 8 p.m. in the Heartland Community School conference room.

If you want to speak at any school board meetings, Nebraska Revised Statute 84-1412 requires members of the public desiring to provide comments to the board to identify himself or herself, including an address and the name of any organization represented by such person.  A form is provided at the meeting for individuals to complete and submit to the superintendent prior to speaking for the purposes of efficiently providing this information.

Minutes and agendas for all board meetings can be found on the Heartland website. Heartland School members are Gary Braun – President; Lacey Gloystein – Vice-President; Secretary – Tammy Ott, Jennifer Hiebner, Ryan Goertzen, and Tyler Newton.