The author was elected in November to represent Subdistrict 12 on the Omaha school board.
As a proud new member of the Omaha school board, I am committed to the educational growth of Omaha Public Schools students while being fiscally responsible to OPS voters and taxpayers.
In February 2012 I made the decision to run for the board when Sandra Jensen decided not to seek re-election, and I filed to run by the March 1 deadline. As a mother of two OPS students who has been a K-12 substitute teacher at many OPS schools, I felt I had a unique perspective to understand the concerns of students, parents and teachers.
During the fall campaign, I learned the general public was dismayed by numerous board decisions, leadership judgments and financial surprises directly affecting the budget. Many voters wanted change, which was accomplished in November with a 33.3 percent turnover in board membership.
During my first week of board service, a proposal was introduced to alter the OPS subdistricts and the size of the board. If it passes, a new election would be required in approximately 2½ months. Without proper planning and thoughtful gradual adjustments, such a decision would be rash and a rush to judgment.
After eight months of campaigning and fundraising, countless hours of volunteering from supporters and having voters make the effort to go to the polls twice, this bill would override the voice of the voters.
Four people were just elected to fulfill a four-year term. Short of recall or impeachment, where is the justification for representatives legally elected by their constituents to be denied the ability to serve their full terms? And we wonder why people become disenchanted with the political process.
A potential precedent is being proposed for the other 248 Nebraska school districts. Do you want the State Legislature adjusting your boundaries for political purposes?
An Omaha World-Herald article this past week stated that a state senator and one Omaha school board member, who has publicly supported Legislative Bill 125, designed new Omaha school board subdistricts for the bill. What about the other OPS school board members? They had no voice in this decision-making process.
The article also stated that LB 125 was referred to the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, not the Education Committee. This bill is about governance and control, not education.
Is this proposal in the best interests of taxpayers? The upcoming city election consists of the mayoral and City Council races. Because there are 15 OPS precincts outside the city limits, OPS would have to pay 100 percent of those costs in addition to sharing the cost of the precincts in the city limits. A rough estimate of the total cost runs between $85,000 and $115,000.
Is this proposal in the best interests of recruiting qualified candidates for the long-term future? I raised and spent approximately $8,500 to run a campaign targeting 19,000 registered voters. Many candidates have spent more.
LB 125 would increase the subdistrict's representation to 36,802, which would nearly double the campaign cost and time to seek an unpaid position. Will our community get the most qualified candidates for these positions?
With all of the new board members and the arrival of a new superintendent, there is a new beginning and determination to create an exemplary board. Functioning as a cohesive board is not guaranteed by a specific number of members but by identifying the best practices of an effective board working in consort with the new superintendent. Experienced and new members need to unite to address the educational issues. The board's effectiveness will be seen by the efforts of its members, not by a reduction in numbers.
In our short time of service, the new OPS board members have attended board orientation, the Nebraska Association of School Boards (NASB) workshop and the NASB Legislative Issues Conference.
Give our newly elected board with fresh ideas the opportunity to carry out our charge to improve the achievement of OPS students, be fiscally responsible and transparent to our OPS constituency.