Pushing the Property Tax

Voters will determine the re-approval of tax levy on March 14

Going to school has become a steady routine in students’ lives. We have become accustomed to classes with our favorite teachers, after-school activities, and programs offered within the district, but most students aren’t aware of the complex budget that goes into each program, activity, and job at MN. A large percentage of the school’s budget comes from property taxes.

In 2018, Millard asked its community to vote on a tax that increased the average annual revenue by 1.09%.  After voting, the district passed the tax levy to stabilize the district’s budget. The levy is voted for approval every five years, and on March 14, Millard voters will again have to decide whether to pass or override the levy.  

Before the initial passing of the tax levy in 2018, Millard had to cut multiple programs and jobs due to selective abandonment. This selective abandonment took place from 2016 to 2019 and involved cutting programs and people to stabilize the district’s budget. 

“If you recall what that felt like, you don’t want that to ever occur again. The worry is, have people forgotten that, and is that sense of urgency still there,” superintendent John Schwartz said. 

The first approval for the tax levy came after this selective abandonment. This has made the district more reliable on property taxes. Millard currently has the second-lowest total levy in the Omaha Metro area and is the second most efficient per-person district in the area. Schwartz is serving his first year as superintendent and takes pride in the district’s humble spending with hopes of continuing the current budget. 

“This is such a great chance to be a part of telling Millard’s story as someone new. So to get to the point where I could be a part of telling this story; it meant that I spent a lot of time listening and engaging,” Schwartz said. 

If the levy is not passed in March, the district will have to cut its budget. Mostly programs and people’s jobs in the district will be at stake. Eighty percent of the tax levy goes towards staff salaries and benefits. This is a substantial amount of money that pays for 40-50 teachers’ jobs. This is equal to two elementary schools worth of staff, or one-third of the para-education workforce in Millard. 

Taxpayers for Freedom, a local taxpayer advocacy group, helps to spread the message and inform the community of property taxes including the upcoming vote. They advocate against higher property taxes. Chief Financial Officer Chad Mesigeier met with the group and went through the budget, reviewing the expenses and outcomes of students. Taxpayers for Freedom is now in support of the levy after meeting with the district’s financial advisors. 

“I think it’s a challenge of how you get the facts to people. I think once they hear the facts then they’ve usually been pretty supportive,” Meisgeier said. 

 Currently, Schwartz and his team are making an effort to spread information about the tax levy. Getting the information out to the community and students has been a struggle, especially for those living in the district without students enrolled in school. 

“We’re really about facts and just trying to share factual information, and answer questions honestly and transparently to make sure people have the right info to make that decision,” Schwartz said.

There is a worry that with inflation on the rise and housing prices going up, the levy will not get passed. From the last vote five years ago, 63% were for it while 37% were against it, and the state aid has only decreased since then, while the student population has increased. The district now receives $2.5 million less in state aid than it did from 2009-2010, despite the student enrollment growing by over 1,000 students. The district is more dependent on the tax levy now and is advocating for its continuation.  

“One thing that is a little concerning is that the first levy vote came right after selective abandonment, which left a deep impression on me because I’m the one who handles all of the complaints,” Director of Communications Rebecca Kleeman said. 

The district’s main goal is to inform the community and students about the levy. Stabilizing the budget is important for the district, but also impactful on the people and programs that Millard supports. 

“It’s not a new tax and nothing is being asked in addition to what we already have. We’re simply asking for support to continue access to what we already have as a school district,” Schwartz said.