LINCOLN — A bill forcing the shakeup of the Omaha Public Schools board is now law.
The Nebraska Legislature voted 44-4 to pass a bill today shrinking the board and forcing new elections. Gov. Dave Heineman signed the measure later in the day.
The bill was passed with the emergency clause, which means it took effect as it was signed. Voting no were Sens. Tanya Cook of Omaha, Al Davis of Hyannis, Russ Karpisek of Wilber and Norm Wallman of Cortland. Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln abstained.
The bill's introducer, State Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha, started trying to shrink the board last year.
He argued that a smaller board would operate more efficiently and be more effective. He cited several controversies dogging the board as evidence that change was needed.
Lautenbaugh said the next step is up to the residents and voters of the OPS district.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to completely remake the OPS board and set a new direction for the district,” he said. “People need to come forward and run for these seats. The voters need to take note, and show up, and vote for change.”
LB 125 reduces the board to nine members, down from the current 12, and puts all seats up for election this spring. The election will coincide with the City of Omaha's elections.
For this year, candidates will have until March 1 to file for the office, including both incumbents and newcomers.
After this year, board elections will move back to the same schedule as the statewide primary and general elections — May and November.
OPS's even-numbered districts will be up for election in 2014 and every four years thereafter. Odd-numbered districts will be on a four-year cycle starting in 2016.
The bill also repeals the law requiring that board members be sworn in by a specific date or have their seats declared vacant.
That language tripped up the four new and two re-elected board members this year.
The six were not sworn in until the date had passed, raising questions about their status on the board. One of those board members, President Freddie Gray, has since resigned.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine has said he planned legal action challenging the seating of the other five. He has not filed a challenge yet.
Along with reducing the number of board members, the bill sets out new boundaries for board districts.
The bill creates a heavily Latino one in South Omaha, in recognition of the large number of Latino students in the school district, while maintaining a predominantly African-American district in north Omaha.
Under the bill, two pairs of current board members would be in the same district. Marian Fey and Bambi Bartek now live in the same district, as do Sarah Brumfield and Mary Morrissey. They would have to run against each other, if both choose to run.
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