Nebraska voters sign off on $520 million of school borrowing

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Voters approved Omaha Public Schools' $410 million bond referendum Tuesday, sparing the district from putting a strain on its general fund to complete repairs.

The district had warned that without the general obligation bonds, it would need to use general fund reserves to keep buildings fully operational as it faces budget cuts. Voters approved the measure by a margin of 67% to 33%.

Voters also approved a $109.9 million bond for Papillion-La Vista schools to finance safety improvements and purchase land for a new high school. The bond referendum passed by a margin of 67% to 33%.

The Omaha school bond will fund the second phase of work in its 2014 Facilities Capital Plan. A majority of the money is for five new schools. The remaining funds will go towards renovations and upgrades at some existing school buildings.

Superintendent Mark Evans said the construction projects will ensure that kids have schools that are safe, structurally sound and not bursting at the seams.

Omaha voters passed a $421 million bond issue in 2014 that authorized the district to renovate fire, life safety, security and technology in schools, replace four existing schools, build a new school and make additions at 12 schools to address capacity issues. The bond only addressed half of the work identified in the 2014 Facilities Capital Plan.

In April, state lawmakers shot down the district’s request to get a $300 million pension bond authorized. That means it is facing budget cuts to meet an $18.7 million payment obligation into the Omaha Schools Employee Retirement System pension fund this fall.

Moody’s Investors Service rates the district’s general obligation unlimited tax and limited tax GOs Aa2. S&P Global Ratings rates the bonds AA-plus. The outlook for both is stable. The district currently has $532 million of GOULT and $58 million of GOLT debt outstanding.

Papillion-La Vista superintendent Andy Rikli said that the district's safety projects would be prioritized.

“For example, we know that some of the locks at some of our elementary buildings need to be replaced immediately," Rikli said. "Some of those projects could be done as early as this summer.”

The district plans to close up open classrooms in the district’s elementary school and to create a line of sight at the district’s schools and continue security enhancements by adding controlled access entryway to schools.

The February gun massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida, made security a more immediate issue for the Nebraska district, which joins a nationwide push to use public funds to ramp up security at public schools after Parkland.

The bond proceeds will also be used to pay for new land for the district’s third high schools, expand existing high schools, and pay for a new elementary school.

Moody’s rates the district’s GOs Aa2. The district has about $106.2 million of outstanding debt.

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School bonds Budgets Bond elections Douglas County Omaha Public School District No 001, NE Nebraska