The Omaha Public Schools stand as one of our community’s most important institutions. It’s crucial to have strong members elected to the OPS governing board.
On Tuesday, voters will cast their decisions in the OPS primary. The general election will be on May 14. All nine seats will be up for election after the Legislature, responding to a series of problems, shrank the board from 12 members.
In our look at this final set of OPS subdistricts, we find that these candidates deserve to advance: Andy Allen and Katie Underwood in Subdistrict 7; Lacey Merica, Juliana Garza and Meg Cordes in Subdistrict 8; and Sarah Brumfield and Rebecca Barrientos- Patlan in Subdistrict 9.
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Subdistrict 7: Andy Allen, a computer technician, has extensive experience as a parent volunteer in OPS. He shows a keen understanding of OPS and the challenges teachers are facing. One way to reduce the achievement gap between white and minority students, he says, is to engage students by creating programs that appeal to them. Too many students drop out because they don’t see a path to a four-year college, wrongly thinking that is their only option.
A greater focus on work-study programs for seniors, and more technical training in OPS, can bring big benefits to students and the community, he says.
Katie Underwood, a civil engineer, comes from a family of educators. Active in civic work, she has served on several nonprofit boards and is a past chairwoman of Greater Omaha Young Professionals.
She demonstrates a thoughtful approach to budgets, drawing on her professional experience. OPS can get the best bang for the buck, she says, by focusing on key goals and allocating resources toward them. OPS can benefit greatly, she adds, by supporting early childhood efforts such as Educare.
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Subdistrict 8: Lacey Merica — an insurance claims adjuster with an MBA from the University of Nebraska at Omaha — demonstrates a strong command of facts and details about a range of OPS issues. This well-spoken Omahan offers worthwhile ideas on how to address budgeting; community outreach; the board’s working relationship with the superintendent; and OPS’s relationship with the Legislature, where she has worked as an aide.
Merica explains ideas for strengthening relationships with local nonprofits and for seeking equitable distribution of resources among schools. One way to improve academic results, she says, is for OPS to see if it can move its hiring date for new teachers, since the date comes later than in many districts. Her comments show her dedication and hard work in educating herself about the breadth of OPS issues.
Juliana Garza thoughtfully explains OPS issues. At the Latino Center of the Midlands, she works with students to help them stay on track and with parents to help them become more involved in education.
Garza, who holds a master’s degree in public administration from UNO, describes how various programs can buttress academic achievement and how OPS can best work with nonprofits to maximize the benefits to students in a cost-efficient way. She is emphatic in talking about the importance of parental involvement and well explains ways that the school board can promote accountability and clear lines of communication.
Meg Cordes, a nurse manager at the Nebraska Medical Center, is an energetic civic volunteer who wants to give back to the school district by providing a fresh perspective and a strong understanding of parents’ concerns and the subdistrict’s needs.
Cordes has extensive experience as a parent volunteer in school activities and would work to boost school involvement by parents and guardians. Her work in the health care field, she says, gives her insight into similar issues for OPS, including budget discipline and working with a diverse population.
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Subdistrict 9: Sarah Brumfield, who works for an information technology services company, is an incumbent who was first elected last November. She frames issues in a practical way, whether explaining the proper role of the board’s legal counsel, the appropriate relationship between the board and the superintendent, or how to improve the user-friendliness of the district’s website.
Key needs, Brumfield says, include a stronger focus on vocational education and parental involvement. She demonstrates the determination and energy to contribute well to those efforts.
Rebecca Barrientos-Patlan has shown commendable community dedication in her extensive civic work in South Omaha. Most important, she helped start the Burlington Road Neighborhood Association, the area’s first neighborhood association in 70 years.
She says her years of civic involvement make her a good choice to help OPS get more input from parents and the community.
In Tuesday’s OPS primary, these candidates deserve to advance: Andy Allen and Katie Underwood in Subdistrict 7; Lacey Merica, Juliana Garza and Meg Cordes in Subdistrict 8; and Sarah Brumfield and Rebecca Barrientos-Patlan in Subdistrict 9.