The five candidates competing for three seats on the Elkhorn Public Schools board agree on one thing: the school district is humming along just fine.

The district’s enrollment continues to grow, students score high on state tests and voters have dug deep into their pockets, approving bond referendum after bond referendum to build new schools or renovate older ones.

But candidates said school board members and administrators will have to continue to work side by side to manage Elkhorn’s growth while retaining its small-town charm and keeping taxes from spiraling out of control. Elkhorn has one of the highest tax rates among Nebraska school systems.

And they’ve got ideas on how to improve the district more, from beefing up civics education to providing more job-training and career education programs for students who aren’t necessarily interested in college.

Incumbents Chuck Burney and Amy Parks are running for re-election alongside Charles Garman, Nancy Rogic-Greufe and Reagan Rosenberg, who have not held political office before. Board member Susan Zingler decided not to run again.

Burney, a retired Millard social studies teacher who also works as a real estate agent, was elected in 2010. With a relatively new superintendent in place — Bary Habrock started in 2017 — Burney said he thinks it’s important to have continuity on the board.

Student achievement remains high in the district, he said, and the board and Elkhorn leadership continue to plan ahead for the families that keep moving into the district. Elkhorn’s enrollment typically increases 7 to 8 percent each year. Voters approved a record-breaking $149.6 million bond issue in March that will fund, among other projects, a third high school.

Burney said the board will have to balance the need for new-and-improved schools with the growing tax burden on residents. And while Elkhorn high schools have a strong college-bound culture, he’d also like to see a bigger emphasis on career and technical education.

“In Elkhorn, we do a great job of preparing kids for college,” he said. “But I think it’s really important to make students aware of all their opportunities, whether it’s a four-year school or a trade school.”

Garman has run, unsuccessfully, for public office several times, seeking spots on the Elkhorn board in 2010 and the Learning Community Coordinating Council in 2012. In 2014, he challenged Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine.

He said he’s older and more experienced now, with two kids in Elkhorn schools and a job as an attorney for the Nebraska Legislature’s Education Committee that gives him a greater understanding of school policies and statewide funding issues. He doesn’t think serving on the school board would conflict with his day job, and said he could keep the two roles separate.

Garman thinks he could bring balance to the board. He’s not someone who thinks any issue in education can be solved by throwing money around, nor does he want to see Elkhorn’s budget gutted in the name of fiscal responsibility. He’s also in favor of expanding civics education so students know more about American history and government and are encouraged to participate civically.

“We want to teach about America, but we also want to trigger that civic interest in our students,” he said.

Parks was elected in 2014, after a history of volunteering in and around Elkhorn schools. Like Burney, she thinks the board will benefit from consistency. The learning curve is huge when you’re first elected, she said, and she’s gotten a handle on district operations and her role as a board member after serving four years.

The current board and administration work well together, she said, and do a good job of handling issues as they crop up, including touchy subjects like boundary changes. The district’s ongoing challenge will be planning for more students while holding on to the qualities that parents prize, like smaller class sizes, academic excellence and neighborhood-centered schools.

“We need to manage growth while maintaining quality,” she said.

But she pointed to signs that the district is on the right track, like a one-to-one technology initiative that’s giving middle and high schoolers Chromebooks and a renewed emphasis on school safety and security after the Parkland, Florida, shooting.

Rogic-Greufe is an anesthesiologist with six kids who have attended Elkhorn schools, so she’s seen the district evolve and change over the course of nearly two decades. She worked on the committee to pass the district’s first bond and has volunteered with numerous parent and school groups. Running for the school board is the next step to continue to serve the Elkhorn community, she said.

“I got to the point that I had done a lot of things in Elkhorn, and I really love Elkhorn, and I figured this would be a great way for me to serve in a different capacity,” she said.

As Elkhorn’s growth continues unabated, she doesn’t want kids to become just a number or a face in the crowd. Families like hers moved to the area because they want and prize a sense of community, she said.

Rogic-Greufe said she works well with others, has an extensive contacts list because of her years of volunteering and can focus on the district’s big-picture goals.

Rosenberg has plenty of ties to Elkhorn. As a school psychologist, she previously worked in the district and her husband is a teacher and football coach at Elkhorn South High.

“I have worked with individual students, with classrooms, with full schools,” she said. “And working for the school board just gives me the opportunity to bring that to the next level, to work for the full district and serve my educational community that way.”

She said the board will have to make tough decisions about building and renovating schools and changing attendance zones as new schools get built or existing schools become crowded. Those decisions have to stay student-centered, she said. As a school psychologist, she thinks she can bring perspective on how to serve all students, from those with special needs to gifted students who need to be challenged.

She also hears a lot from parents who want more recess during the day, so kids can be active and get the wiggles out so they can focus in class.

Reporter - Education

Erin is an enterprise reporter for the World-Herald. Previously, Erin covered education. Follow her on Twitter @eduff88. Phone: 402-444-1210.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Recommended for you

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.