The North Platte public school district needs $1 million more next year than it did last year, but there were no outcries from the pubic Monday afternoon at a public hearing.

Although the district needs more cash, property taxes will increase only slightly, district officials said.

By law, the budget is published each year at this time. A public hearing must also be held, providing taxpayers time to address the school board and top administrators.

That hearing began at 4 p.m. Monday at the McKinley Center in North Platte, at 301 West F (F & Willow.) For the first 25 minutes or so, Finance Director Stuart Simpson talked to the board.  One person from the public — resident and taxpayer Bernice Ziegler — addressed the board.

According to the budget, the district plans to increase the tax levy hardly at all — by only 0.00028%.

Also, taxable property valuations in the district are on track to increase by just 1.5% — less than the normal 3-4% increase, further lessening the impact on property taxpayers.

The district will make up the shortfall by dipping into approximately $6 million in cash reserves.

Ziegler, who attends school board meetings and cautions the board about the adverse impacts of raising taxes, said the budget looks good to her.

“As a taxpayer I have to say, hat’s off to them,” she told the Bulletin. “There are no significant increases in spending in the budget, except for salaries. It looks like taxpayers will be okay for another year.”

Salaries for administrators, teachers and para-professionals are increasing by 2.5%.

The new budget won’t be final for another month, after the total property valuations are more certain.

During her remarks, Ziegler complimented Simpson for his efforts to set the budget despite the limitations. He also recently met twice with her and provided “extremely well-prepared answers — with paper back up,” to her requests and questions.

“He has earned his salary raise,” she said.

“May all of you operating under this budget spend it wisely and gratefully,” she added.

 

Buildings

Simpson spoke about many topics, including the cost of facilities.

He said the district has 12 school buildings, plus a building for administration and a building for maintenance. Three modular buildings have been closed in recent months, leaving five modulars. And, there is one vacant school building — Hall — which is for sale.

Utility costs for the district are $1 million a year and insurance costs $500,000 a year, Simpson said.

In recent months, administrators have discussed ways to reduce the costs of the buildings, including closing Buffalo School, but the talks have been preliminary. Buffalo will remain open in the 2018-19 school year.

Simpson also mentioned the need to increase the number of students enrolled, which would increase the amount of state aid the district receives.

 

State law emphasizes reading

Simpson also talked about the Reading Improvement Act, LB 1081 — a new state law that focuses on the importance of teaching students to read by the third grade.

The law says all teachers of students in Kindergarten-grade 3 must be effective reading teachers, based on:

  • classroom observations and improvement on reading assessments, or
  • specialized training in reading improvement.

Extra reading classes, including summer school, will be needed, he said.

After the meeting, Simpson speculated that the new requirements could add $200,000-$300,000 to the schools expenses.

When asked if the district isn’t already taking pains to be sure students are learning to read, he told that Bulletin, yes, but more steps will need to be taken, possibly including hiring a reading specialist.

Simpson also said an existing school program to help (intervene with) students who are falling behind still needs to be implemented in four schools. The program is called Leveled Literacy Intervention.

Simpson’s presentation can be found HERE.

 

(This report was originally published Aug. 6 and was republished Aug. 9 in light of the talkback discussion. -Editor.)