BENNINGTON, Neb. (WOWT) – One of the state’s fastest-growing school districts says it needs to build another high school.
But some Bennington taxpayers are asking the district to slow it down as they raise concerns about rising school debt.
Bennington Administrators believe the growth is there and they need to build a new high school.
The district has expanded over the years.
When the current superintendent started that job in 2004, Bennington had 600 students and one school building that was K-12.
Now 18 years later there are 4,000 students and eight buildings.
Bennington is a growing bedroom community, meaning most of the people who live there work somewhere else.
Homeowners make up 91% of the valuations. Businesses are just 4%.
That means the burden of paying for a school bond falls disproportionately on the homeowner through property taxes.
“When was the last time you went grocery shopping in Bennington? I’ll answer that for you. You didn’t. Because we don’t have a grocery store here. We don’t. And that’s part of the problem,” Bennington parent Erin Kloke said.
Erin Kloke has lived in Bennington for a decade.
Her two kids have been in Bennington schools since kindergarten.
She’s voted for every bond – until now.
“The motto to this is not ‘no to the kids’ or ‘no to the school district.’ It’s ‘no’ for right now. Let’s take a deep breath and a step back.”
Similar concerns exist for Bennington taxpayer Jennifer Sedlacek, who specializes in finance.
She examined the numbers from the last 20 years of school bonds.
“We’ve had six voter-approved bond issues for a total of $ 198 million and we’d only paid down $20 million? That just didn’t sound right to me,” Sedlacek said. “You’re trying to float it. Keep layering on and hoping eventually growth and everything catches up. It’s also a risky way, I think.”
The November $153 million bond issue, if approved, would move Bennington Schools from the 2nd highest school tax levy in the state behind Gretna, to first.
Bennington Schools remains attractive for its education. It has been adding 200-to-300 students to the district every year.
“One could say the economy could slow down homes and slow down people moving here,” said Benning Superintendent Dr. Terry Haack. “I would not disagree with that. But there’s a difference between a complete stop and a slow down.”
Superintendent Dr. Terry Haack says he understands the pressure facing homeowners.
Building a new high school would add $300 dollars to the annual tax bill for a $300,000 home.
But delaying the bond would create overcrowding down the road.
“We believe it’s important to provide kids with a good atmosphere and environment and facility to learn and grow,” Dr. Haack said. “That’s what we’re proposing to the community. We recognize it’s going to cost and we don’t take that lightly.”
The Bennington parents 6 News spoke with pointed to both Elkhorn and Blair school districts as good examples with growing enrollment that also manage to keep the debt ratios low and consistent.
When 6 News asked the superintendent about why more of the principal from the past bonds hadn’t been paid down, he said it came down to the district still being in a high growth phase, knowing these buildings will be around a long time, while trying to keep the levy consistent.
The $153 million Bennington school bond issue is on the November ballot.