Frozen school district boundaries hurt Sarpy County growth, critics say -
Published Tuesday, November 26, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 4:54 pm
Frozen school district boundaries hurt Sarpy County growth, critics say

A school border fight is bubbling up again in metro Omaha as districts jockey to take advantage of the awakening economy.

The dispute is in Sarpy County, where the Papillion-La Vista and Bellevue districts bump up against Springfield Platteview.

When lawmakers passed the 2007 Learning Community law, they froze school district boundaries in 11 metro-area districts, preventing them from gobbling up their neighbors.

To change a boundary, both districts must agree. The law ended contentious boundary fights, including the Omaha Public Schools' attempt to take over parts of the Millard, Ralston and Elkhorn districts.

Before the freeze, Papillion-La Vista and Bellevue were gradually gnawing away chunks of Springfield Platteview under a law that allowed annexed or platted ground to convert to the school district of the annexing or platting city.

Now city officials from Papillion and Bellevue and real estate developers contend that the frozen boundaries put a chill on real estate development at a time when the economy is showing signs of life again.

Springfield Platteview Superintendent Brett Richards, however, said thawing the boundaries could open “Pandora's box.”

The city officials say developers would rather build in the suburban Papillion-La Vista and Bellevue districts, but with boundaries frozen there's no way for districts to expand to accommodate them.

Denny Van Moorleghem, vice president of Regency Homes, said buyers want homes in the Papillion-La Vista and Bellevue districts, “but there's no place to build new housing areas, because the developers can't go any farther to the south.”

Homebuyers aren't concerned about the quality of education in Springfield Platteview, Van Moorleghem said.

“The factor is that it's 12 or 13 miles from where they live to the nearest school,” he said. “They're not going to put their kids on a bus. And there's not a community environment. Kids want to play with other kids who are in their neighborhood.”

The result, city officials say, is that prime land in the Springfield Platteview district lies untouched by developers. A prime example, they say, sits about a mile south of the Shadow Lake shopping center, where rows of homes in the Shadow Lake housing development stop abruptly at the boundary with Springfield Platteview.

Lawmakers took testimony on the boundary situation earlier this month at the request of Sen. Jim Smith, whose district includes the cities of Papillion and La Vista.

Papillion Mayor David Black said that the frozen boundaries have already hurt financially and have the potential to bring economic activity in Sarpy County to “a grinding halt.”

Since boundaries were frozen, Black said, fewer than 100 new residential lots have been approved within Springfield Platteview. Over the same period, he said, more than 3,000 homes have been built, 1,000 homes are under construction and 2 million square feet of new commercial development has been built in the Papillion-La Vista district.

Black said lawmakers should take action because the state benefits from growth in Papillion. Papillion sales tax revenue for the state has more than tripled over the past 13 years, he said.

Bellevue Mayor Rita Sanders said developers want to build on land in her city, but it lies within Springfield Platteview.

When people buy a house in a city, they want their kids to attend school there, Sanders said.

“I don't want to take away anything, or say anything bad about the Springfield school district, but it's 10 miles away, and we certainly can absorb them in the Bellevue school district,” she said.

Richards said thawing the boundaries would put his district at risk of losing land again. He said lawmakers should keep Springfield Platteview's boundaries frozen unless they are willing to do away with the Learning Community's common property tax levy.

Richards said that if lawmakers want to spur development, they should get rid of or change that levy, which cost his district about $1.8 million this year — $4.8 million over four years.

Richards said Springfield Platteview loses substantially more money to the common levy than it would giving up land to neighboring districts. For that reason, he said he's not entirely opposed to compromise on borders, as long as the common levy is junked.

“This is disheartening to our district stakeholders, who know that if we resided a few miles south in Cass County we'd have over $1.8 million more to serve our students this school year,” he said.

Voters in the Springfield Platteview school district rejected a $35.7 million bond issue Nov. 12.

Richards said keeping boundaries frozen is the only way to push up his district's enrollment, currently at 1,072 for pre-kindergarten through high school.

Richards said his district has achieved academic success. The district placed first among Sarpy County districts on 14 of the 20 state standardized tests, he said. The governor recognized Platteview High School as a top-five Class B school in reading, math and science.

He disputed the perception that his district's schools are too far from possible new development areas to serve them.

The district has an elementary school less than a mile from Werner Park baseball stadium, he said. Students have a 10-minute commute from the district's northern boundary to its junior high and high school, he said. Many students commute longer in Papillion-La Vista and Bellevue, he said.

Complicating the boundary issue is a ridge line that runs roughly east to west down the center of the county. Land on the north drains to the Papillion Creek. South of it, land drains to the Platte River. To spur development south of the ridge, in Springfield Platteview, will require building sewers and sewage treatment plants.

The ridge, according to Gretna Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Riley, is like “the Great Wall of China” for future development.

Papillion Planning Director Mark Stursma said a sewer plan drawn up 2007 to serve the area has sat on the shelf because the boundary issue has steered them to focus along the Nebraska Highway 370 corridor west of Papillion.

Real estate developer Jerry Torczon, who is president of Home Building Professionals of Greater Omaha, said home construction is rebounding after the oversupply that preceded the recession. In the next 10 years, land for development will be limited to the northwestern parts of the metro Omaha area and to Sarpy County, he said.

Torczon said he believes all school districts are solid, but market forces drive where homes are built.

“School district is probably the first question that consumers ask,” he said.

Comparing the Sarpy school districts


Serves Bellevue and Offutt Air Force Base. Greatest growth potential lies to the southwest in developing areas near Fairview Elementary School and Lewis and Clark Middle School.

28 square miles

10,116 students

15 elementaries

Three middle schools

Two high schools

Reading, 107th

Math, 174th

Science, 174th

Highest-rated marching bands in the state; piloting an iPad program.


Serves the cities of Papillion and La Vista. District officials see growth potential west along the Nebraska Highway 370 corridor toward Werner Park.

36 square miles

10,753 students

14 elementaries

Two junior highs

Two senior highs

Reading, 25th

Math, 59th

Science, 89th

Last year, voters OK'd a $59.6 million bond issue, the district's largest ever.


Created in 1958 when 13 rural Sarpy County school districts voted to merge. The district was called South Sarpy until a recent rebranding.

93 square miles

1,072 students

Two elementaries

One junior high

One senior high

Reading, 8th

Math, 37th

Science, 54th

Provides iPads for use by seventh- through 12th-graders.

Contact the writer: Joe Dejka    |   402-444-1077

Joe's beat is education, focusing on pre-kindergarten through high school.

Civil rights hearing to consider voting policies in Midwest
Firefighters battle brush fire near Fontenelle Forest
17 senators in Nebraska Legislature hit their (term) limits
Convicted killer Nikko Jenkins might await his sentence in prison
It's a pursuit of pastel at Spring Lake Park's Easter egg hunt
Financial picture improving for city-owned Mid-America Center
No injuries after fire at midtown's old Mercer Mansion
29-year-old Omahan arrested for 22nd time in Lincoln
Police: Slaying of woman in Ralston apartment likely over drugs
Explosion near 29th, Woolworth damages vehicles
Omaha police arrest man, 19, accused in March shooting
Earth gets its day in the sun at Elmwood Park
Beau McCoy strikes Obama doll in TV ad; Democrats are not happy
Keystone XL pipeline backers blast 'political expediency' as foes hail ruling to delay decision
Nebraska senators to study tax issues over break
Portion of Saddle Creek Road closed after water main break
Teenager arrested after woman's purse is snatched outside Omaha store
Police identify 21-year-old shot in ankle near 30th, W Streets
Cult murderer's death row appeal denied, but execution in limbo
Interstate construction to cause lane shifts, closings in Omaha area
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
Omahan charged in fatal shooting in Benson neighborhood
Friday's attendance dips at Millard West after bathroom threat
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
Crack ring's leaders join others in prison as a result of Operation Purple Haze
< >
Dickson’s Week in Review, April 13-19
On Twitter some guy tweeted that the spring game isn’t taken as seriously as a regular-season contest. What was your first clue? When the head coach entered waving a cat aloft?
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
The main speaker at today's Ivy Day celebration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a college president who grew up roping calves and earned her Ph.D. at the prestigious Oxford University in England.
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »