Limits on school, ESU bond elections considered

A bill that would limit when school bond elections may be held was considered by the Education Committee Jan. 30.

Sen. Rick Holdcroft
Sen. Rick Holdcroft

LB878, introduced by Bellevue Sen. Rick Holdcroft, would prohibit schools and educational service units from conducting special elections for a bond issue, a property tax levy or exceeding a property tax levy limitation. Instead, such questions could appear on ballots only during statewide general elections in even-numbered years.

Holdcroft said two schools in his district, Millard Public Schools and Papillion La Vista Community Schools, held successful bond elections within the past year. Voter turnout for those elections was 34.5% and 33%, respectively, he said, compared to the 53% voter turnout in Sarpy County during the November 2022 general election.

“I believe it is important that there is as much voter input as possible when it comes to proposed ballot questions impacting our tax bills,” Holdcroft said. 

Nicole Fox testified in support of the measure on behalf of the Platte Institute. Nebraska has the seventh highest property tax rate in the country, she said, and school bonding and levy overrides are contributing factors. 

Fox added that special elections can be costly because election staff shortages can result in overtime pay. For example, she said, conducting a 2020 Lincoln Public Schools bond issue cost an average of $4.93 per voter. 

Kyle Fisher testified in opposition to the bill on behalf of Springfield Platteview Community Schools and the Nebraska Association of School Boards. LB878 would remove an elected board’s ability to conduct business in a timely manner that is “flexible and cost-effective,” he said.

Also testifying against the proposal was Jack Moles. Speaking on behalf of the Nebraska Rural Community Schools and the Greater Nebraska Schools associations, he warned that limiting the option to conduct special elections could lead to higher material and construction costs if voter approval is delayed.

“Removing a board of education’s opportunity to consider factors [impacting] cost hinders its ability to make sound financial decisions for the district,” Moles said. 

The committee took no immediate action on LB878.

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