NTF Issue Paper: legwatch46.doc.  7-07.


BACKGROUND.  In 2006, the state legislature passed LB 1024 (see NTF issue paper) that reorganized the public school districts in Douglas and Sarpy Counties.  In an effort to satisfy many competing interests and avoid the continuation of expensive lawsuits against the state, liberal State Sen. Ron Raikes in vain forcibly pushed through LB 1024 in the hecticStory image 1
State Sen. Ron Raikes     closing days of that session.  This legislation immediately attracted fierce opposition from the taxpaying public, school administrators and teachers, and parents of school children.  Therefore, at the beginning of the 2007 legislative session, the same acrimonious groups pressed their respective cases to gut LB 1024 and replace it with new legislation.  Once again, Sen. Raikes attempted to satisfy the special interests and has satisfied almost no one completely, especially taxpayers who will pay dearly if LB 641 takes effect.  This bill will raise our school property taxes greatly and add layers of  bureaucrats.  The legislation is unnecessary to basic education and so complex that no one can say definitely how much it will cost taxpayers or increase educational achievement.  Never attempted before, this social engineering might fail to increase academic achievement but continue to fleece taxpayers.  Proponents cite the frightening high percentage of metro area students who fail or drop out, their being nowhere near acceptable educational standards.  Omaha Public School students score in only the 23rd percentile on the California Achievement Test.  This legislation is only an attempt to bribe OP$ by spreading its educational malaise into adjacent school districts.  These liberals offer their standard answer to such problems: Raise taxes, hike spending, and create additional bureaucracy.  A simpler solution would see revision of the entire educational system bureaucracy and its curricula.  Gov. Heineman, initially voicing concerns about the bill, caved in as usual and refused to veto it. 

COORDINATING COUNCIL.  The Douglas and Sarpy Co. election commissioners will divide learning community territory into 6 equal districts to facilitate election of members to the Learning Community Coordinating Council.  Metro-area school boards will appoint 6 members from among themselves, guaranteeing no fresh or contrary perspectives.  Citizens will elect 12 other council members in 2008, 2 from each of 6 election districts.  In each of these districts, voters will vote for only 1 candidate, though 2 candidates will win election.  This limited voting will allow a bloc of minority voters to elect several of their own.  Limited voting means that whites more likely run for public office, and white voters likely will split their votes among them.  Minority voters will swing behind one minority candidate, and limited voting will increase their opportunity for election.  This ruse was instrumental in achieving support from leftist Sen. Ernie Chambers. Conservatives believe that this ruse violates federal voting law.  Learning community members could earn up to $12,000 annually. Recall that regularly-elected school board members draw no salary. 

LEARNING COMMUNITY.   The 18-member, 6-district Learning Community Council will levy a 95c per $100 of valuation common property tax for school district general funds, district building funds, and capital projects, without a vote of the people and in addition to current property taxes levied by member school districts, which will continue to set their own levies.  It could also levy an 8c per $100 valuation tax for a discretionary or building fund levy and a 5c per $100 valuation tax for construction of new schools, school resource centers, and elementary learning center facilities.  Metro school districts would surrender 3c of their present $1.05 property tax levying authority to the Learning Commu- nity for the metro area building fund, etc.  In return, these districts would receive an additional infusion of state aid (our state sales and income tax dollars).  The Learning Community would not have to ask for a majority vote at the ballot box for construction projects, as bond campaigns for individual school districts now require.  Sec. 79-1073 revises the distribution of the general fund common levy, so that several wealthier districts that levy higher property taxes subsidize districts like OP$, which have lower valuations on property.  Current budget limitations will disappear to reflect the needs calculated for each school district.  Distance education, telecommunications services, and Learning Community allow- ances will become subtracted from general fund operation expenditure budget lids beginning in 2008-2009.  Duties for the bureaucracy include levying and distributing the common tax levy, collecting, reporting, and analyzing educational data, approving focus and magnet schools, managing focus and magnet school programs, administering and marketing open enrollment programs, developing integration and diversity plans that include open enrollment, approving or disapproving poverty alleviation plans for member school districts, establishing and administering elementary learning centers, and manage new educational resource centers for inner city elementary pupils.  The Community will enforce additional integration and educational achievement goals set for minority kids.  In each of these new election districts, board members will develop diversity plans for poor students and illegal alien pupils. The council will hold annual school fairs to provide community students and parents opportunity to explore educational experiences at schools outside their home districts.   Learning Community coordinating councils will help with dispute resolution among districts, including an ombudsman and referrals to mediation centers. This bureaucracy will supersede individual school districts, appropriate their authority, and further extinguish local control and citizen input.  The law intent means to squeeze all 11 school districts into 1 consolidated entity.  Sen. Raikes garners a rich history of pushing such consolidation.  In 2005, he pressed dissolution of elementary-only districts and supports school districts expanding with city boundaries, which would allow OPS to gobble up other Douglas County districts. 

EDUCATION CENTERS.  Education centers would organize around 2-3 high school attendance areas.  Each new education center would have a board of 8 members elected from election districts, like school board members win election now.  Another bureaucracy paralleling school boards.  Each school district with education centers must have an administra tive board of 2 members from each education center, a board chosen by the education center boards.  Each education center would become treated as an individual school district for state aid purposes, adding numerous new entities to receive state aid (our state sales and income tax dollars).  More expense for the Douglas County Election Commissioner to create 8 new election districts for education centers.  The total fiscal impact of these centers remains unknown.  Through these centers, each school district must guarantee access to early childhood programs for poor kids, class size reduction and maintenance of small classes for poor kids, student access to social workers in school buildings or elsewhere without parental notification, access to extended school day and year programs, mentoring for new teachers, and professional development for teachers and administrators focusing on addressing education needs of poor and illegal alien students.  State social service agencies presently cover many of these same services, so we will see expensive overlapping.

ELEMENTARY CENTERS.  Elementary resource centers, entirely separate from regular schools, primarily will serve minority and poor pupils, but all elementary students will have access to these services.  This new layer of bureaucracy within Douglas and Sarpy Counties will cost taxpayers an unknown number of property tax dollars.  The Learning Community will provide and manage these centers focused on pupils facing educational challenges.  The coordinating council must establish at least 1 elementary resource center area for each 25 elementary schools in which at least 35% of students attending the schools in such area are poor.  These centers supposedly will spur academic success for poor, illegal alien, and transient students.  The executive directors of these centers will serve 6 yr. terms, salary set by the coordinating council.  Each exec may appoint assistants and employees at his discretion.  The council will appoint a community advisory committee of at least 5-9 for each area, which must have at least 1 elementary learning center facility not in a building owned by the school district but located in a high-poverty area, owned or leased by the Learning Community. The “gimmee” crowd doubtlessly will demand more per area.  These centers will offer pupils computer labs, tutors, mentors, social services for transient students, extended school day programs, extended school year and summer programs, advocates to discourage truancy, transportation for truant students, English classes for parents and other family members, health services (Planned Parenthood?), mental health services, child care for parents working on literacy skills or working with their kids on academic skills, nutritional services, free transportation for participating families, transportation of poor kid parents to school functions, distribution of school supplies, interpreter services, and unproved pilot projects to aid the academic achievement of poor and illegal alien elementary students.  Parents of illegal aliens could take high school equivalency classes.  Child care will assist parents taking GED or English classes.  Supplemental salaries for teachers teaching extended hours in these schools in poor neighborhoods.  Professional development for teachers to understand better poverty and diverse background students. 

FOCUS SCHOOLS.  All 11 districts must collaborate on focus schools, collecting students from both counties to increase classroom diversity.  Each school will offer a specialized curriculum, like the Chinese language or health occupations programs.  These schools will channel pupils into specific pathways, to study a curriculum from kiddiegarten through high school, to channel them into specific occupations believed appropriate for them.  For example, if Red China offered to provide trained teachers and other resources for a Chinese language immersion curriculum, the Learning Community would welcome it.  Metro school districts must pool their resources for this endeavor beginning in 2009-10, contributing from their general funds. 

SOCIAL ENGINEERING.  The diversity plan objective is to yearly increase the socioeconomic diversity of enrollment at each grade level in each school, and member districts will develop and administer diversity plans to achieve diverse enrollments.  Educrats will encourage minority students to transfer to schools outside their neighborhoods.  The bill will force school districts in the Learning Community to provide sufficient openings for students residing outside the atten- dance area of each elementary school, so that at least 10% of students attending these schools could reside outside their attendance areas, meaning that taxpayers in wealthier districts must subsidize students living in poorer districts.  Middle and high schools must reserve 5% of their classroom capacity for students from outside a school attendance area, prefer- ence shown to kids that increase school diversity.  The objective is that each school have about 1/3 of students classified as poor.  School districts must provide transportation for students attending a school in the district to which they transferred into without regard to resident school district from which they came.  Students in the 2-county area could attend any school in the Learning Community with free or fee-paid transportation, with preference for transfers for poor students.  Free rides for poor kids or those attending a school in which 35% of students attending have poverty labels.  Free transportation to contribute to the socioeconomic diversity of a school building or to attend a focus or magnet school outside a neighborhood.  A huge influx will flood Sarpy County and suburban Douglas County schools. Property taxpayers in suburban districts will pay to build new schools or renovate existing ones not for their own children but for students bused in.   Integrating Omaha schools never has seen the academic achievement of minority students increase measurably.  School districts in the Learning Community can exceed their budget lid for anticipated hikes in transportation costs for students in the first year of implementation.  Expanded transportation required to accelerate multicultural diversity would cause common school calendars and daily schedules, outraging parents. 

PC BUREAUCRATS.  A student achievement coordinator will develop a plan to improve academic achievement focused on poor students and those with limited English ability.  This hire must have background and training in teaching methods to address poverty kid needs.  The coordinating council will appoint an ombudsman who can analyze law, administration, and public policy for a 6-yr. term.  He can accept complaints, valid or otherwise, from anyone and conduct investigations leading to witch hunts.  He can issue subpoenas to compel someone to appear and give sworn testimony, though he is not a judicial official. No judicial review of his proceedings or opinions.  Neither he nor his staffers would have to testify or produce evidence in a judicial proceeding concerning their official conduct or duties.  All new employ- ees in the Learning Community and its satellite bureaucracies will join the generous state education retirement plan. 

TAX HIKE & SHIFT.  The Learning Community board will levy a new property tax to pay for construction of new schools.  This common levy is 95c per $100 of valuation.  This board can levy an additional 5c per $100 valuation to buy, build, or remodel elementary learning center facilities and pay for up to 50% of the cost of specific capital projects, thereby bypassing a vote of the people as now required on construction bond issues.  On your 2009-10 tax statement, you will see a new line item for this additional tax.  The Learning Community will administer the new property tax levy and distribute the funds.  Under the new property taxing authority, the agricultural tax bases in both Douglas and Sarpy Counties will subsidize poorer urban districts to help educate their students.  Because Sarpy Co. property valuations become updated more frequently than those in Douglas County, Sarpy Co. property owners will pay higher taxes into the Learning Community than Douglas Co. residents.  A legislative fiscal office study found that Bennington, Douglas County West, Elkhorn, Gretna, Papillion-La Vista, and South Sarpy school district property owners all will face tax hikes when the levy begins in 2009-10 and lose state aid funds.  To recoup funding, these districts must convince voters to override tax levy limits resulting in huge tax hikes.  They are threatening lawsuits against LB 641. Much of this revenue will fund construction of new specialty schools and elementary learning centers in OPS, which will reap $15.7 million more.  All school districts will share the overall property tax base of both counties, tax revenue redistributed as in a socialist state with the objective of helping poor kids.  Each individual school district also can continue to levy a property tax of $1.05 per $100 of valuation, although the legislature promised last year to push down the maximum tax amount to $1.  No one involved can estimate the total and ongoing costs of this scheme.  No estimate of costs for busing kids in the new integration and open enrollment plan.  The bill did not state the beginning and ongoing costs for the new education resource centers or which taxpayers will pay for their operations. Legislators reconfigured the state aid system for this plan without knowing ultimate costs. The Learning Community will receive $500,000 in state aid (our income and sales tax dollars) in preparation for establishment of the community, $1 million in 2009-10, and an undetermined increase each year afterwards, plus more for specialized schools, summer school programs, poverty programs, and English as a Second Language programs.  Ironically, 2 lawsuits filed by OP$ and its adherents are still ongoing, one suing the state for more funding, the other suing over the proposed breakup of the failing OP$ system, so the meter continues to run for property taxpayers forced to subsidize these lawsuit legal costs. 

ITS SUPPORTERS.  One usually can evaluate the nature of a bill by examining its boosters.  In this case, the radical leftist Omaha Together One Community and teachers unions heartily endorsed LB 641.  Understand that this monstrosity law is not confined to the Omaha metro area but can adversely affect other NE urban school areas. 

LEGAL RECOURSE.  Several officials and attorneys believe that this plan could crumble under legal scrutiny, first, because it places an unequal tax burden on the school districts, and secondly, because the method of electing the Learning Community board is illegal.  The current U.S. Supreme Court many conservatives believe prepared to outlaw integration programs based on race.  These observers anticipate a decision to prohibit racial considerations in determining where pupils attend school. 

TAKE ACTION NOW.  Current school districts and boards, if willing, can accomplish anything envisioned in this grandiose social engineering project.  Property taxpayers in Douglas and Sarpy County will pay more for Learning Center bureaucracies, new specialty schools for minority and illegal alien children, and for subsidizing metro schools in economically-depressed areas.  Additional state taxpayer sales and income tax dollars will fund this gigantic socialist  experiment. Suburban Douglas County and Sarpy County schools will become inundated with transfer students fleeing inferior inner city schools. Schools in both counties will become magnets for illegal aliens seeking generous services.  Individual school districts will lose their autonomy and authority to manage their own affairs and finances.  Contact your state senator NOW to repeal LB 641 and use information from this issue paper!  Email netaxpayers@cox.net for senator contact information.

Research, analysis, and documentation for this issue paper done by Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom, with express prior permission granted for its use by Citizens for Local Control, Cherry County Taxpayers, Dawes County Taxpayers, and other groups in the Taxpayer Network.  7-07.  C