At least four new school board members. Another superintendent search. Calls from the governor and a legislator for reforms.
This school year is becoming another one of change for the Omaha Public Schools, the state's largest school district.
Much of it is internal: Only two of the six board members whose terms end this year are running for re-election on Nov. 6.
And longtime OPS Superintendent John Mackiel retired in August. Former Ralston Superintendent Virginia Moon is working in the interim as the board works with a consultant to find a permanent successor. In April, the board hired former Des Moines Superintendent Nancy Sebring, but she later resigned after sexually explicit emails sent from her work account became public.
Sandra Jensen, Mary Ellen Drickey, Nancy Huston and Kersten Borer are leaving the board. The last time the 12-member board saw that much turnover was after the 1982 election, when five new members were seated.
In northeast Omaha's subdistrict 2, board President Freddie Gray faces James English, a retired OPS administrator and teacher.
English, 68, said he is running to make sure every kid in Omaha gets a good education. He especially wants kids in the inner city to get as good of an education as those in suburban Omaha.
This is English's third recent attempt at public office. Since 2009, he has unsuccessfully run for seats on the Omaha City Council and the Omaha Public Power District board.
English has drunken-driving convictions from incidents in 1999 and 2004. In both cases, English was placed on probation for six months and had his driver's license suspended for 60 days. He also filed for bankruptcy in 2008.
Gray has faced challenges of her own lately.
In August, she withstood a vote from her colleagues to remove her as board president because of how she handled the Sebring situation.
Gray and OPS board attorney Elizabeth Eynon-Kokrda did not tell board members or the public after learning that Sebring had resigned from her Des Moines job for sending racy emails on a school computer.
Gray and Eynon-Kokrda said Sebring minimized what she had done, so they didn't feel the need to share what they knew or to launch an investigation.
Gray's defenders have said she has reached out to community leaders, began a strategic planning process and helped the board become more transparent.
This would be Gray's second four-year term on the board. She was elected board president in January.
In subdistrict 4, portions of midtown and South Omaha, one of two political newcomers will get the seat held by Huston.
Sarah Brumfield, 28, did not return multiple calls and emails seeking comment from The World-Herald.
She is facing Oscar Duran, a 29-year-old neighborhood revitalization specialist at Habitat for Humanity of Omaha.
Duran wants to create more opportunities for students to serve their communities and to connect them with professionals.
“A big part of finding jobs and employability is finding networks,” said Duran, who works with some OPS students in his current position.
In subdistrict 8, a portion of southeast Omaha, two more school board neophytes are running to succeed Drickey, 87, who has been on the board since 1996.
Danyelle Baratta works for the reEnergize Program in Omaha and Lincoln, a U.S. Department of Energy grant-funded program administered by the City of Omaha. Baratta, 34, wants to help OPS improve its test scores and to learn more about how the district spends its money.
She is running against Andy Allen, a 48-year-old computer technician for the Army Corps of Engineers. OPS could be doing a better job at keeping at-risk kids interested in school, he said.
“We have to provide educational programs that reach out to those kids and say, ‘Hey, you complete this program, there's a real-world job available when you graduate high school,'” Allen said.
OPS also needs to have a long-term strategic plan, Allen said, with interim marks to see if the district is on track.
The most competitive race has been in northwest Omaha, subdistrict 12. Jensen has represented the subdistrict continuously since 1981.
Patrick Bourne and Jennifer Tompkins Kirshenbaum advanced out of a five-way May primary.
Kirshenbaum has worked as an OPS substitute teacher since 2009. She also works part time in human resources at the Rose Blumkin Jewish Home.
She said she would work to make OPS high schools more competitive with other high schools in Douglas and Sarpy Counties.
Bourne works as the vice president of commercial business and government affairs at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska. Six years ago, as a state senator, he argued against the split-up of OPS into three districts.
That past legislative experience will help him improve the district's relationship with legislators, he said.
Bourne also has the financial backing of the Omaha Education Association, the OPS teachers union, which has donated $1,000 to his campaign. OEA also gave $1,000 to Tom Green, who did not advance out of the May primary.
Chris Proulx, OEA president, said the union supports both Kirshenbaum and Bourne this time around, although it has contributed only to Bourne.
OEA has not taken an official stance on the other races.
In subdistrict 6, incumbent Mary Morrissey is running unopposed, as is newcomer Nicole Nash in subdistrict 10.
Contact the writer: