Voters can have a far-ranging impact on our community’s future by choosing capable, energetic members of the board for the Omaha Public Schools.
The primary for the OPS board is Tuesday, with the general election on May 14. Nine seats are up after the Legislature revamped the board, shrinking it from 12 districts, in response to a series of problems.
Today we look at the candidates in three more OPS districts and find that these contenders deserve to advance: Justin Wayne and Jill Brown in Subdistrict 4; Jennifer Tompkins Kirshenbaum, Jeff Miller and Lou Ann Goding in Subdistrict 5; and Matt Scanlan and Barbara Daughton in Subdistrict 6.
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Subdistrict 4: Justin Wayne, the incumbent in this subdistrict and a labor relations manager with Union Pacific Railroad, has consistently advocated for reform over the past two years despite pushback and criticism from some other board members.
Events have proven Wayne correct in saying that the board lacked transparency, was too passive toward the superintendent, gave too much authority to the board attorney, needed a strategic approach to planning and needed to break out of a defensive mind-set. In 2011, Wayne was one of only two Omaha school board members who voted to end the district’s policy of conducting its own investigations into sexual assault allegations rather than reporting them to police straight away.
A second Subdistrict 4 candidate who speaks knowledgeably about a range of issues is Jill Brown, an assistant professor of psychology at Creighton University. Brown specializes in child development issues and has evaluated school programs. She would work to see that OPS adopts best-practice approaches to promote effective learning.
It is key for the OPS board to promote transparency and openness and to incorporate worthwhile ideas from the district’s educators and the public, she says. She offers sensible ideas regarding the proper relationship between the board and superintendent.
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Subdistrict 5: Voters in this subdistrict are blessed with an especially strong field of candidates, and we regard three as notably capable.
Jennifer Tompkins Kirshenbaum was elected in November to the OPS board. She holds an MBA from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and works part-time at the Rose Blumkin Jewish Home on budgeting, planning and employee policies.
Kirshenbaum clearly understands past missteps by the OPS board; analyzes OPS issues well; pinpoints key needs, such as completing a strategic plan to guide the district; and emphasizes her business/ financial background and past experience in the classroom as a substitute teacher.
Jeff Miller, owner and president of a company that makes custom loose-leaf binders, brings a forceful, common-sense approach to OPS issues. He uses clear language to describe past failures by the OPS board and outline practical ways forward.
Miller is energetic and impressive in explaining big-picture needs on budgeting, and he offers keen insight into the details of bidding and contracts.
Lou Ann Goding demonstrates a strong understanding of practical budgeting issues. She has 25 years’ experience in business finance and currently works part-time preparing financial statements for companies.
Goding has a notable, wide-ranging record of civic involvement, including school activities, and has demonstrated consensus-building skills. She ably analyzes key issues for the district, including strategic planning, budget policy and the proper relationship between the superintendent and the board.
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Subdistrict 6: Matt Scanlan shows an exceptional understanding of OPS issues. His private-sector experience with a steel-fabrication firm helps him analyze issues in a practical way. Scanlan uses clear, accessible language to describe key OPS needs, as well as the board’s failures in recent years, and to offer sensible solutions.
His answers are substantive. When asked about the challenges in trying to boost enrollment at some OPS high schools, he showed familiarity with the issue and with the individual needs of different parts of the district. Asked about teacher evaluations, he showed similar insight in describing key points for properly analyzing teacher performance.
Barbara Daughton brings a notable understanding of school issues and of OPS. She retired in 2004 after a 35-year career in a range of teaching and administrative roles in education, including 25 years in OPS.
Daughton stresses that OPS has opportunities to learn from its successes in boosting academic achievements for low-income children and to apply the lessons appropriately elsewhere in the district. Asked about issues from teacher evaluations to budgets, Daughton responds with the insight that comes from extensive real-world experience in education.
In Tuesday’s OPS primary, these candidates deserve to advance: Justin Wayne and Jill Brown in Subdistrict 4; Jennifer Tompkins Kirshenbaum, Jeff Miller and Lou Ann Goding in Subdistrict 5; and Matt Scanlan and Barbara Daughton in Subdistrict 6.