Gov. Dave Heineman signed a bill Monday to cut the size of the Omaha school board from 12 members to nine. Under the bill -- one of the first laws passed by the 2013 Legislature -- new elections for all nine board seats will be held in May. The deadline to file for office is March 1.
The bill is intended to counteract declining student achievement in Omaha. It sped through the Legislature in slightly more than two weeks. The final vote was 44-4.
"Larger boards tend to be correlated with lower performance, lack of consensus building, poor communication and poor decision-making,” Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery said during debate.
All nine OPS board members will be elected in May. New election districts will be drawn. Going forward, approximately half the seats on the board will be open in 2014 and the other half in 2016.
“We need to focus on individual and school academic achievement and growth,” Gov. Heineman said. “Omaha Public Schools needs a new leadership. They need to focus on the priority, which is the students, and make decisions that put students first. Providing our students with a quality education is essential to Nebraska’s future.”
Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers also supported the bill, which he said seeks to address systemic inefficiencies.
“The public doesn’t feel like they get serious consideration before the board,” Chambers said during a hearing. “The board simply ‘rubber stamps’ whatever the superintendent tells them to. This is a shot across the bow to remind them that the Legislature is constitutionally authorized to run the public schools.”
“OPS does understand we have a huge job in changing the achievement gap,” OPS interim superintendent Virginia Moon said during the hearing.
Critics say the Legislature is disregarding the will of Omaha voters, especially since some OPS members were elected in November.
The Nebraska Unicameral Update contributed to this report.