Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A Modest Proposal for OPS

by Kyle Michaelis
If the state legislature is bound and determined to take action on the Omaha metro's "One City, One School District" battle, they are obliged to consider a special legislative session that would free them from making a hasty vote with little chance for debate on very short time on so important an issue.

Following is the state law governing the convening of a special session:
Nebraska Statutes; Section 50-125

Whenever ten or more members of the Legislature shall lodge with the Secretary of State a positive statement in writing...setting forth the purpose or purposes for which said Legislature is convened, requesting that the Legislature meet in special session...the Secretary of State shall forthwith certify to each of the other members of the Legislature...the fact that ten or more members have lodged such statements with him and the object or objects of calling such session.

If within ten days thereafter an additional number of the members of the Legislature, sufficient to make two-thirds or more, shall lodge statements in like manner...the Governor shall, by proclamation, stating therein the purpose or purposes for which it is called, convene the Legislature to meet in special session within five days after receipt of said certificate from the Secretary of State.

The Legislature shall enter upon no business except that for which it was called together.

Now, I'm not entirely convinced that any action by the legislature is necessary or appropriate at this time. If some action is to be taken, though, it should be done right....with the singularity of focus and purpose that only a special session of the legislature can provide.

There is a strong argument for allowing the current state law of "One City, One School District" to stand, as Omaha Public Schools has requested in defense of its consolidation efforts. Creating a common tax base with more community-based planning might, however, achieve many of the same goals without causing as much open hostility, so such a proposal deserves full consideration as well. Truth be told, there is even some merit (as a fairly cynical solution of last resort) in the out-of-nowhere proposal to divide OPS into three separate school districts that caused such a tizzy over the weekend.

What there is no value in, though, is coming to a final decision between these choices without taking the fullest possible opportunity to consider their ramifications. The legislature need not and should not be under the gun, as it is right now, when making this important and far-reaching decision for the students, educators, and voters of Omaha.

With both sides having now seen the extreme possibilities for what might come out of the legislature, can it really be so unreasonable to expect that, given a month or two to negotiate, they could perhaps come to some settlement on a process over which they would have some actual control? If that should fail and the matter remains a pressing one, a well-rested legislature could then convene this summer to dictate a resolution, giving out-going Senators one more claim to the legacy with which many seem so concerned.

Of course, an alternative proposal has been made to freeze the school district boundaries and conduct a two-year study of the situation, but there is little value in so tying the school districts, the students, and the legislature to a broken system with so little incentive to actually fix the problems at their doorstep.

Tough choices are not going to be any easier two years from now. They're not going to be any easier this summer either. But, the possibility of a special session encourages resolution and actually shows respect for the urgency of this debate. A moratorium does neither. Moreover, politically easy (and cheap) state-ordered studies, as evidenced by their effectiveness with Nebraska's embarrassing foster care system, quite often prove to be worth less than the paper they are printed on.

Senators should be prepared to make tough choices - soon. That's what they're electcted to do. I just want to see that they make smart and informed choices as well. They have a right to not be rushed and a duty not to legislate on the fly. Finally, the public has a right to be heard, and the students have a right to an education that isn't plagued by gross disparities of resources resulting from racial and economic divides.

No solution will make everyone happy. That's fine. The key here is to avoid creating a catastrophe while not avoiding the actual problem. I propose, by following the above plan, our state senators could do just that.


Blogger Karl said...


I agree that a special session is needed to successfully address this problem. However I do not believe that the newest two plans Chambers plan of dividing the system into three districts while pooling the funding or locking the districts for two years are the answer. I grew up in a vey large metropolitan area and felt that there were significant advantages to having a large school district (25 high schools in my county with 22 of these schools being of the 4A size which is equivalent to the size of the schools in Omaha.) Because of the large size of the district the system was able to create magnet programs in subject areas such as math science literature or government. The students were able to test into an IB program to receive college credit in High School making the college education more affordable. For these reasons I discount the idea that no school system can handle all the students in Omaha as was an argument in the legislature. I don't think Mr. Chambers plan of busing students to different schools is not cost effective or really legal and the idea of creating more buraucracy is useful when you do the math that every extra person serving in the administration is one less teacher (salary to salary) in the classroom. The greatest advantage would be the unification of the carriculums so that all students get the same course whichever school they attend.


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