LINCOLN — Oops.

A bill aimed at shaking up the Omaha Public Schools board got more than enough votes to advance in the Nebraska Legislature Thursday.

It just didn't get the vote of its prime sponsor, State Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha.

Lautenbaugh was there when the vote was taken.

He just got so caught up in watching the vote that he forgot to push his own green button to vote yes.

The measure cleared first-round consideration anyway, on a 37-4 vote.

The vote total is good news for Lautenbaugh because he hopes LB 125 can pass with the emergency clause, meaning it would take effect immediately.

Passing a bill with the emergency clause requires 33 votes on final consideration. Bills need 25 votes to advance or pass with delayed implementation.

The bill proposes to shrink the board and strike a law designating when new members must be sworn in.

State Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha introduced the amendment that embodied the agreement.

He said the plan aims at having a school board elected without legal questions and providing a fresh start for the new superintendent.

“The bitterness and the divisiveness has to come to an end,” Harr said. “We don't want the board to have a cloud over it.”

Also read: Q&A: The OPS controversies

Under the agreement on Legislative Bill 125, the number of OPS board members would be reduced to nine, down from the current 12.

Elections for all members of the board would be held this spring, to coincide with the Omaha city elections.

Language in existing law requiring that board members be sworn in by a specific date, or have their seats declared vacant, would be repealed.

That language tripped up the four new and two re-elected board members this year. One of those board members, President Freddie Gray, has since resigned.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine announced Monday that he plans legal action challenging the seating of the five.

He said they were sworn in after the legal deadline, making their seats vacant. The county attorney's action could force a special election.

Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha said he introduced LB 125 because he believes the OPS district needs “a shock to the system.”

He said that changes to the board would not solve all the district's problems or produce immediate changes in student achievement scores.

“There's more to do but this is an important first step,” he said.

Sen. Tanya Cook of Omaha questioned whether changing the size of the board would make a difference.

In response, Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers said the board size is unwieldy and needs to be changed to improve the board's functioning.

Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln, chairman of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, said research about board sizes suggests that larger boards tend to perform worse.

Their decisions are not as bold, communication is poorer, there is less accountability and they engage in “group think.”

Harr said the agreement calls for further legislative review of the proposed new district boundaries drawn up by Lautenbaugh.

Any changes in the boundaries likely would be offered during second-round debate on the bill, he said.

In addition, under the agreement, the filing deadline for all candidates would be set at March 1 this year. Current law, and the proposal for all other elections, sets an earlier deadline for incumbent officeholders.

Lautenbaugh said the one-time deadline change makes sense because of the short time frame before the spring elections.

The elections called for in LB 125 would eliminate the need for a special election.

The vote to advance LB 125:

For (37): Adams, Avery, Bloomfield, Brasch, Campbell, Carlson, Chambers, Coash, Crawford, Dubas, Gloor, Haar, Hadley, Hansen, Harms, Harr, Howard, Johnson, Kintner, Kolowski, Krist, Lathrop, McCoy, McGill, Mello, Murante, Nelson, Nordquist, Pirsch, Price, Scheer, Schilz, Schumacher, Smith, Sullivan, Watermeier, Wightman.

Against (4): Cook, Davis, Karpisek, Wallman.

Abstain (3): Bolz, Larson, Lautenbaugh.

Absent (5): Ashford, Christensen, Conrad, Janssen, Seiler.

Contact the writer: 402-473-9583, martha.stoddard@owh.com


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