Palmyra gets huge gift for school and community

PALMYRA – Data from the u.S. Census shows that as school districts shrink in size their per child expenditures grow. Larger school districts have the upper hand, with more funding and more efficient spending. But one small school district is getting some big help with money.

It all comes down to equalization aid. That is essentially doing more with less. Districts that grow more rapidly while keeping property valuations relatively low receive more money. For example, Lincoln Public Schools received more than $135 million in equalization aid in 2017. A smaller district, OR-1 in Palmyra, received a little less than 900 thousand. But last week, they got a little unexpected help.

That help came in the form of $5.4 million. The Olson Foundation provided the gift, which the Superintendent said is more than 80 years in the making.

Dr. Leland Olson was a student at the district in the 1930s. His father died unexpectedly before Olson graduated high school. He thought he would have to drop out and work for his family’s business. The mayor and school principal stepped in to help his family continue to operate the family hardware store to allow him to complete his high school education and move on to college and eventually medical school.

The Olson Foundation wants the school district, and Palmyra, to reap some of his success.

“Their goal was to work with the community and the school to fund a project that puts Palmyra on the map,” said Superintendent Robert Hanger. “I think that’s exactly what it’s going to do. This gift puts us at least 5 to 10 years ahead of where we would be without it.”

The money will go toward several new athletic complexes, many of which, Hanger said, the district has never had before. This including a new baseball field, turf football and soccer field, and an all-weather track. Currently, students play on a grass football field and the track is gravel.

But the school district won’t be the only one benefiting. Palmyra will also get several walking paths that connect the school district to the rest of the community and concrete roads.

“We’re bringing the community of Palmyra and the school district of OR-1 and the community of Bennett therefore, together, which is one of our strategic goals, trying to unite our district and our community into one,” Hanger said.

When the gift was announced, Hanger said he was in shock.

“To be honest, it’s not very often in my life that people would know me and say I was speechless, but I was,” Hanger said. “And now all my words have turned to ones of thanks.”

The district is finishing up $8 million renovations to the school, and Hanger said it’s only fitting for the outdoor facilities to match the new building.

Hanger said he wants to see construction start by Spring 2019, with everything built by 2020.

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