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OPS board OKs $617 million budget that includes nearly $30 million in cuts

OPS board OKs $617 million budget that includes nearly $30 million in cuts

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The Omaha Public Schools board approved a $617 million general fund budget Wednesday night, the final step in a painful process that started earlier this year and culminated in layoffs and other budget cuts.

The budget for the 2018-19 school year includes $29.53 million in budget reductions that board members signed off on in June. The cuts were needed to close a budget shortfall caused in part by bigger payments the district has to make to its underfunded pension system.

The reductions have resulted in the elimination of roughly 180 positions, many of which were already vacant, cuts to central administration and pay freezes for most employees, excluding teachers. The district also drew down $21.6 million from its cash reserves.

The $617 million budget represents a 1.35 percent spending increase from the 2017-18 budget. The board vote was 8-0.

The valuation of OPS’s property tax base increased by 5.4 percent, a rare bright spot in a tough budget year.

The total levy for the 2018-19 school year is roughly $1.25 per $100 valuation, a slight decrease from last year’s levy of $1.26. That dip can be attributed partly to the district’s ongoing phase-out of an early retirement incentive program.

The total school tax bill for a home valued at $150,000 would be about $1,875, a $15 decrease.

In other business, the board also approved a five-year, $13.1 million contract with the firm that will oversee bond-funded construction projects.

The fee that Jacobs Project Management Co. will collect equals about 3.2 percent of the total $409.9 million bond program approved by voters in May.

OPS Superintendent Cheryl Logan said the district was able to drive a hard bargain, negotiating a smaller fee and “giving us more dollars that can be used to provide world-class experiences to our students.”

The bond proceeds will build high schools in far northwest and south-central Omaha, two elementary schools and a middle school, and update older or crowded schools.

Jacobs managed bond projects for OPS’s 1999 and 2014 bond programs. For the 2014 bond projects, the district and Jacobs negotiated a $15.9 million contract and a 3.795 percent fee.

Jacobs initially suggested a fee between 3.45 and 3.65 percent to manage the latest round of construction. That would have translated to $14.14 million to $14.96 million.

As program manager, Jacobs will work with OPS to determine construction schedules, develop and track construction budgets, manage bids, oversee contractors, inspect construction work and continue running an economic inclusion program designed to steer more work to small and local contractors and businesses.

Jacobs will also help the district hold meetings and collect feedback on boundary changes prompted by the construction of new schools and provide opportunities for OPS students to get hands-on experiences in the construction industry.

The company will have to give quarterly updates to the superintendent.

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Reporter - Education

Erin is an enterprise reporter for the World-Herald. Previously, Erin covered education. Follow her on Twitter @eduff88. Phone: 402-444-1210.

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