Levy exemption for teacher voluntary terminations advanced

Senators advanced an education omnibus bill April 18 after amending a proposal to place voluntary termination agreements under school district levy and budget limits.

As introduced by the Education Committee, LB512 was drafted to make several technical changes to education law. A committee amendment adopted on general file incorporated the provisions of several other education-related bills into LB512.

These included LB457, introduced by Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, which would remove a budget and levy limitation exemption for the money a school district agrees to pay teachers and administrators in exchange for voluntary termination of employment. He said placing voluntary termination payments within a school district’s levy and budget limits would provide more control of and accountability for school spending.

Briese introduced an amendment, adopted 33-0, that would — for fiscal year 2018-19 — exempt from budget and levy limits the amounts levied to pay for 75 percent of the funds used for voluntary termination agreements. That would decrease to 50 percent for FY2019-20 and 25 percent for FY2020-21.

Briese said the amendment is a compromise that would give school districts at or near their levy and budget limits time to move voluntary termination payments back under those limits.

Omaha Sen. Burke Harr supported the amendment but said that it would too strictly limit a tool that school districts use to save money by encouraging older, higher-paid teachers to retire. He said the measure is used predominantly by urban districts that have reached their levy limit.

Harr introduced an amendment that would allow school districts already at their maximum levy to exempt from budget and levy limitations up to $35,000 of payments for a teacher’s voluntary termination agreement that is not part of a collective bargaining agreement.

Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue supported the amendment. She said voluntary termination agreements help growing school districts that already are at their levy limits to hire more teachers by paying older, higher paid teachers to retire early.

“This is a really important tool for those districts in areas where the population is growing rapidly,” Crawford said.

Briese opposed the amendment, saying it contradicts the original intent of his bill, which is to reduce property taxes by controlling school spending.

“Either these amounts should be within the levy lid or budget limits or they shouldn’t,” he said. “I don’t care what amount we’re talking about — they should be within the lid and limits.”

Senators voted 30-6 to adopt Harr’s amendment.

Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld introduced an amendment, adopted 33-0, that would modify provisions of his LB175, which also was incorporated into LB512 on general file. These would prohibit operators of websites, online services or mobile or online applications from using student data for targeted advertising or creating student profiles for non-educational purposes.

The amendment would exclude from that prohibition any websites and online services operated by a postsecondary institution with a physical presence in Nebraska.

Lawmakers then adopted a technical amendment and advanced LB512 to final reading on a voice vote.

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