The Omaha Public Schools apparently violated a state law this week by waiting too long to swear in half of its school board.

According to state law, the board must swear in newly elected board members “before the first Monday in January.”

Instead, the four new and two returning board members took the oath of office Monday — which was the first Monday in January — before the board's regularly scheduled meeting that night.

If the officials are not sworn in before the first Monday, the law states, their election is void, and the board must fill the vacancies.

While the matter might end up being a harmless technicality, it was apparently a point of concern to some school officials, because it was discussed in a closed session with the district's attorneys later in the meeting.

This was the same meeting in which the board took 30 votes to retain Freddie Gray as president.

David Patton, an OPS spokesman, said the board has consulted with its attorneys and contends the members have been properly seated. The board points to another state law that says the board members will be elected for “four years from and including the first Monday of the January following their election.”

The two statutes apply only to OPS.

Patton said new members on the board are typically sworn in on the first Monday of January.

“This is the practice that's been in place for generations,” Patton said. “We feel we're within the parameters of the law.”

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said he planned to look into whether OPS violated state law, after The World-Herald asked for comment.

After regular board business was completed Monday, the OPS board voted to go into closed session to discuss four items, including board procedures, with legal counsel.

Board members Shirley Tyree and Barbara Velazquez acknowledged the board discussed the issue but declined to comment further.

Incumbents Freddie Gray and Mary Morrissey took the oath after their re-election in November. The four new board members are Sarah Brumfield, Danyelle Baratta, Nicole Walker-Nash and Jennifer Tompkins Kirshenbaum.

This isn't the first time the board's actions have come into question over the past year.

Last summer the board faced scrutiny when Board President Freddie Gray and the board's legal counsel didn't tell the rest of the board that Nancy Sebring, OPS's superintendent-to-be, had resigned from her last job after she sent racy emails to her lover on a school computer.

Sebring resigned from the Omaha job when the emails became public.

Then, in September, Gray and other board members were surprised by a $1 million retirement payout to Superintendent John Mackiel.

The payout was written into Mackiel's contract years ago, but board members — and the district's finance staff — were caught off-guard by the amount.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1074, jonathon.braden@owh.com

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OPS board meeting on Saturday

The Omaha school board could approve a new deal with its future leader Saturday.

The board has scheduled a meeting for 7:30 a.m. Saturday to consider and possibly take action on the contract of Mark Evans, the future superintendent of the Omaha Public Schools.

Evans, currently the superintendent of the Andover, Kan., Public Schools, was picked by the board last month. He was one of three finalists.

Former Ralston Superintendent Virginia Moon is leading OPS in the interim.

— Jonathon Braden

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