LINCOLN — Gov. Dave Heineman on Friday sharply criticized the Omaha Public Schools board and its $1 million retirement payout to former Superintendent John Mackiel.
The governor called the payout a “golden parachute” and said it was “appalling.”
In comments to The World-Herald, Heineman said the school board “should be ashamed of itself for approving” the payout.
Along with the lump-sum payout, Mackiel will receive $200,000 a year from his pension, in addition to drawing from a district-paid annuity.
The payout caught OPS officials by surprise, although it had been negotiated years ago.
Heineman said the money should have been used in the classroom to boost academic performance.
“It is disgraceful that the OPS board's priority is funding for high salaries for administrators instead of what should be the real priority: funding for high academic standards,” he said.
Freddie Gray, school board president, did not respond to messages seeking comment.
OPS spokesman David Patton said he was not familiar with the governor's remarks and could not immediately respond.
Mackiel did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
However, Mackiel has defended the payout, saying it should be seen in the context of the job's responsibilities. And school board member Shirley Tyree has stood by the payment, saying the district had the best superintendent in the state.
But Chris Proulx, president of the Omaha Education Association, said he could not agree more that the money spent on Mackiel's retirement package should have been directed toward students.
He said the payout doesn't sit well when teachers are being told they cannot make copies or get needed supplies because of budget cuts.
“It's definitely a number that has made a lot of teachers grumble,” Proulx said.
The governor spoke out a day after State Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha announced plans to introduce legislation aimed at addressing his concerns about OPS.
The senator wants to shrink the size of the OPS board to seven members, down from 12.
He also wants to authorize charter schools, at least in Omaha; cap school administrators' compensation; and allow the state to take over failing schools.
Heineman said he looks forward to working with Lautenbaugh on the board matter and the administrative salary caps.
He did not endorse the charter schools idea. In the past the governor has not favored such schools and has pointed to private schools and home schooling for people seeking alternatives to public schools.
Patton said OPS officials are “evaluating” Lautenbaugh's proposals.
Proulx said the teachers association was neutral on the bill to shrink the board and has not taken any position on the other ideas. He said he is not a fan of charter schools and would have to know more details before taking a position on administrative salary caps and a state takeover of schools.
Heineman's comments on Friday marked his latest clash with Mackiel and the Omaha district over the years. Last year he took issue with Mackiel's total annual compensation, estimated at $413,607.
The governor also has been critical of the academic performance of some OPS schools and has repeatedly raised concerns about persistent academic achievement gaps within the district.
In 2006 he signed a bill that would have broken OPS into three separate districts, after siding with suburban school districts that resisted an OPS plan to force them to consolidate.
Contact the writer: 402-473-9583, email@example.com