Omaha Public Schools Superintendent Cheryl Logan was asked to name the top reasons to be optimistic about the district.
“Well, the 53,300 children makes it really optimistic,” Logan said without hesitating.
The district is growing, Logan told the Rotary Club of Omaha West.
And OPS is a district of fine traditions with strong philanthropic support.
“I am staunch believer in the mission of public schools as a cornerstone of our country’s great institutions and in what sets us apart from the rest of the world,” Logan said.
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Since starting her job as superintendent on July 1, Logan has met with more than 50 groups and individuals to allow the community to get to know the person in charge of the largest school district in the state.
On Friday, Logan was at it again.
Logan told the Rotary members about her upbringing in Maryland, why she chose to move to Omaha and the goldendoodle puppy she’s adopted since moving to the city. The dog, Sophie, was named with the help of the students at Benson West Elementary School.
Logan talked about the hardworking students she’s met and how she became the OPS superintendent. She took questions from the crowd, including one about the district’s pension shortfall.
The World-Herald is currently publishing an occasional series looking at the roots of the $771 million shortfall in the OPS pension fund.
A massive liability, the shortfall is forcing the district to slash its budget to meet mandated obligations to its retirees.
The series has revealed that bad decisions by the fund’s trustees have cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
Those decisions included selling off stocks during the Great Recession and missing out on the rebound, risky alternative investments, and a cozy relationship with a firm that both advised the trustees and sold them investments.
In 2016, the state took over investment authority from the trustees and the district.
The Rotary member’s question was simple: Is there an end point for the pension troubles?
“Obviously, that’s the goal,” Logan said.
She said she admired Minnesota for dealing with its pension problem in a way that ensured that everyone shared in the pain of fixes to the pension fund — not just young teachers, not just retirees.
Logan said the district has a stakeholder group studying the issue and is reviewing its options.
She said OPS will have to work with state legislators.
Part of the reason for OPS’s current situation is some changes in statute, she said.
“The biggest reason is because of the investments — jumping out of the market when, you know, it’s a long game,” Logan said.