The Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties doesn’t yet have a deep reservoir of goodwill to help it overcome missteps.
That’s why it was good to see this relative newcomer to the public policy scene and its Learning Community Council members take a deep breath on a potentially costly decision.
The group is weighing how best to implement a state requirement that it develop an early childhood education plan for its 11 Omaha-area school districts. The law was changed this year to enable the cooperative to intervene early with at-risk kids.
But the rush to hire two $1,000-a-day consultants to help construct that plan needed another look.
The Learning Community Council should have trusted the public and taken more time to share why hiring consultants was the best course of action.
The proposal turned heads, not necessarily for its lack of merit but for the sticker shock that left even some council members questioning the idea.
No one should question the expertise of the proven former interim superintendent of the Omaha Public Schools, Virginia Moon. Nor should anyone question the credentials of Omaha pediatrician (and LiveWell Nebraska blogger) Laura Jana.
Both are capable, intelligent and trusted.
The people who raised questions before and during a public Learning Community meeting Thursday wanted — and needed — more information.
They wondered rightly whether a state with several education colleges has others with expertise who might be willing to help with the early education plan for less money. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has made early childhood education a research priority. The University of Nebraska at Omaha prioritizes urban education.
When the head of the state’s largest teachers union says local teachers could piece together a strong early childhood education plan for little more than free pizza, it raises more questions. And what do all 11 school district superintendents think?
If such options were explored before the decision was made to solicit the help of the two consultants, that information should be shared aggressively with the public. If hiring the two consultants is the best way for the superintendents of the 11 districts to draft an effective plan, explain why.
That’s a key challenge of public service: No matter how messy or time-consuming, elected officials and their surrogates need to bring the taxpayers along. The people paying the bills might not agree with a chosen course, but at least they will hear the rationale and, more importantly, governments will hear from them.
Regardless of the eventual outcome, there may be a path somewhere between complimentary pizza and $1,000 a day. The going rate for educational consultants matters a lot less than taxpayer buy-in.
So it’s good that the Learning Community Council hit the pause button, but there isn’t a lot of time to dawdle. This plan is required by state law.
Few dispute the need to give impoverished children a better educational head start. Early education is sound policy for the future of our community.
Let’s hope that the next time the Learning Community discusses this issue, council members and staffers do so with an understanding of the need to speak clearly, articulate the goals and fully explain the reasoning for the spending choices.
Missteps with taxpayer money can undermine political legitimacy, and the Learning Community’s purpose — unlocking human potential — is too important to let that happen.