Douglas County voters pass all four school levies

By Karen Larsen
Empire Press Correspondent

Replacement maintenance and operations levies passed by healthy margins in four Douglas County school districts last week. A special election was held Feb. 9, with levies on the ballot for Bridgeport, Mansfield, Orondo and Palisades school districts.

As is typical for special elections, voter turnout was low, with only 4.89 percent of registered voters casting ballots. Palisades showed the largest percentage of levy approval with 87.3 percent in support of the levy. Mansfield had 71.93 percent of ballots in support of the levy, Bridgeport had 60.82 percent and Orondo had 58.45 percent.

Money requested varied from district to district. The Mansfield levy requested $1.89 per $1,000 assessed property value, or $150,000 per year over the next four years (2017-2020). The Bridgeport levy requested $2.00 per $1,000 assessed property value increasing incrementally in the total amount collected from $279,515 in 2017 to $287,985 in 2020. The Orondo levy requested $2.62 per $1,000 assessed property value or $938,000 per year for 2017 and 2018. The Palisades levy requested $1.97 per $1,000 assessed property value for 2017 and 2018. The levy will collect $106,639 in 2017 and $108,771 in 2018.

The replacement levies cover shortfalls in state funding, and allow schools to include enrichment like art, physical education, sports, field trips and technology. They also help to fund learning materials, lower class sizes and staff certain positions, such as nurses and food service workers. In some districts they help to support preschool programs. Since Orondo and Palisades school districts do not have their own high schools, these districts are required by law to make payments to the districts that educate their high school students. The levies help fund these payments.

Passage of the levies qualifies some districts for levy equalization funds from the state. For example, because of passage of the levy, Bridgeport School District will receive $980,000 per year in levy equalization funds. Mansfield will receive approximately $178,000 per year. The purpose of these funds is to help equalize funding between school districts with low property values and those with high property values.

Douglas County communities have been consistently supportive of school levies over the years, but this didn’t lessen the appreciation of school administrators at the Feb. 9 results. Mansfield School Superintendent Cora Nordby said that her district works hard to stretch the dollars it receives. “We very much appreciate the support our community has shown us through the years and continues to show us,” she said.

Orondo Superintendent Millie Watkins said that her school district depends on levy funds to supplement what it receives from the state. “We are so grateful for the local support of the folks who recognize how vital it is to keep good, strong education available to our students,” she said.

Ismael Vivanco, superintendent of Palisades School District, said that the levy makes up the difference between what the state provides and what is needed to provide quality education to students. “We try to provide our students with additional enrichment activities, educational field trips and technology,” Vivanco said. He added that levy money can be spent in different ways depending on the needs in a particular year. “I’m always grateful and appreciative of the voters for supporting our small school,” Vivanco said.

Bridgeport School District Superintendent Scott Sattler said in an email, “Bridgeport has a long tradition of supporting the M&O levy and we just want to say thank you for that support. This levy will keep vital programs alive such as the College in the High School, athletic programs, music, after school programs, field trips and continued operations. Thank you, Bridgeport for your support.”