Bill would require public vote before school districts could use ‘work around’ to finance new schools

By: - February 22, 2023 1:57 pm

(Getty Images)

LINCOLN — Voters would have to approve agreements to finance new schools via little-used interlocal agreements under a legislative bill given first-round approval Wednesday.

Lou Ann Linehan
State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn (Courtesy of the Unicameral Information Office)

State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn said Legislative Bill 299 would close a “loophole” in state law that allows financing of new school construction without a public vote.

“If you’re going to put people in debt, people should have the right to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ ” Linehan said.

She cited a recent case in Beatrice, where voters twice rejected bond issues to build one new elementary school to replace four aging neighborhood elementary schools.

The local school board, however, approved construction of a $43 million elementary school through another route, by joining with Educational Service Unit 5 to secure a loan to finance the building project.

Such an interlocal agreement does not require a public vote, which Linehan described as a “workaround” from the typically required school bond elections to approve new construction projects.

State Sen. Myron Dorn
State Sen. Myron Dorn of Adams
(Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

State Sen. Myron Dorn of Adams, who represents the Beatrice area, supported the bill, saying many local residents were upset that the construction project moved forward without voter approval.

LB 299 advanced from first-round debate on a 38-0 vote.

Ground was broken on the new Beatrice school in September, according to Lincoln television station 10/11. Dorn said it will replace four school buildings that are 50 to 70 years old.

The senator said at least two other school districts in Nebraska have used interlocal agreements to build new facilities.


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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.