Gov. Dave Heineman said Friday that changing the size of the Omaha school board is a legitimate issue for discussion.
Heineman said 12-member boards like Omaha's would be oversize in the corporate world and hard to manage, but shrinking the board to five — as State Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh proposes in a legislative bill — would be going too far.
Heineman said he opposes paying school board members. Lautenbaugh's bill proposes paying each Omaha member $20,000 a year. The bill would also limit board members to two four-year terms.
Lautenbaugh contends that the smaller board would attract more qualified candidates and improve efficiency and accountability to the public.
Members of the Omaha school board voted 11-0 this week, with one member absent, to oppose the bill. They say there's no need for a change.
The governor commented on the board size matter in response to a reporter's question after Heineman touring Liberty Elementary School in downtown Omaha with 2012 Nebraska Teacher of the Year Luisa Palomo.
Palomo teaches kindergarten at Liberty, 2021 St. Mary's Ave. The governor visited classrooms and a computer lab, telling school officials he is looking for effective ideas he can share or advocate.
He questioned school staff on a variety of topics including parent engagement, testing, language barriers and the need to make students aware that college is an option.
He listened to fourth-graders recite practice essays for the state writing test on the topic "something they did not want to do." Brisa Romero wove a tale about resisting her dad's instruction to take a shower. Krystal Mullennix described in detail the unpleasant adventure of changing her baby sister's diaper.
Third-grader Felicia Resendiz asked the governor if he brought his "spies" with him.
The governor bent face to face with the girl.
"See that man over there? He's my spy," he said, pointing to a security officer who accompanies the governor.
Heineman said he was impressed with the teachers and leadership team at Liberty. He said the children appeared engaged and excited.
After his visit, Heineman was also asked by a reporter if he backed the efforts of the Nebraska Board of Education to implement a new system for holding schools accountable for test scores and graduation rates, using multiple measures of performance.
"I applaud their effort," Heineman said. "I think they're moving in the right direction."
Two bills in the current session would authorize an accountability system. One from Education Committee Chairman Sen. Greg Adams mirrors the work of the state board. A second, from Sen. Brenda Council, calls for a more elaborate system, additional performance measures and state intervention teams when schools consistently fail to improve.
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