Thursday, November 21, 2002


The Nebraska State Education Association did not spend a dime on the Nebraska gubernatorial race earlier this month, but its political action committee sent $1,000 down to Florida to try to defeat Gov. Bush.

Duane Obermier, NSEA president, said the PAC dollars were sent at the request of the Florida teachers’ union, and that Nebraska union officials felt it was appropriate to respond to the request for help. “We are all colleagues nationwide,” Obermier said.

Nebraska, Georgia and Rhode Island teachers’ unions sent money to the Florida effort, which failed. The donation was revealed by the watchdog group, Education Intelligence Agency, http://www.eiaonline.com


First, longtime Nebraska tax-cutting guru Ed Jaksha of Omaha sounded the clarion call of school consolidation, or at least intelligent unification, in a World-Herald op-ed with a goal of cutting nonclassroom costs in Nebraska school districts where enrollment is declining or where nonclassroom school staff are employed in ratios that can’t be justified in today’s economy.

Then, longtime World-Herald publisher Harold Andersen, now a columnist, blasted Jaksha for spotlighting several rural Nebraska counties for school consolidation instead of the clump of districts right under their respective noses in Douglas and Sarpy Counties.

Jaksha tried to blast back, but had been published four times in six weeks, so the paper declined.

Here’s an excerpt from Jaksha’s reply:

“He (Andersen) challenges the idea that administrative costs could be reduced with consolidation of administrative entities and to return those cost savings to serve the needs of teachers’ salaries and other local school costs. My examples did not refer to Douglas County and other metro area school districts by design – those are another problem. As the idea of consolidation of City of Omaha and Douglas County moves ahead, the same approach may deserve consideration for OPS and the other metropolitan school districts, including those in Lancaster County.”

Jaksha also pointed out that besides its own operating budget, the OPS superintendent and board supervise the budget of Educational Service Unit #19. Tax money is regularly shuffled from the ESU to OPS operations, but those millions are practically invisible to the taxpaying public.

The operation of public radio station KIOS by OPS is another example of use of taxpayer dollars that the public knows little about, Jaksha wrote.

“The management of OPS and the Omaha School Board should be more open about their use of property, sales and income taxes routed to them via the generosity of property taxpayers and taxpayers across the state,” he said.


It’s really dumb to elect educators to school boards. They have little or no experience outside schools, they have a tendency to groupthink, they don’t always have the wattage necessary to grasp complex policy matters and multimillion dollar budgets, and most of all, they treat their own constituencies like children. If we criticize schools in any way or dissent even a skoch from their typically-unanimous decisions, they either downgrade us, quit calling on us, or send us to the corner to wear a duncecap.

Did you see the OPS board members “rapping the knuckles” of the tax watchdogs at the OPS meeting earlier this week? Uff da. It was ugly.

I think it has a lot to do with how educators are trained in teachers’ colleges . . . not at all the same thinking style as you get in business school, journalism school or any of a number of other disciplines. School boards are weird in that they’re usually stacked with insiders, in stark contrast to other kinds of boards, which are strengthened by having representation from all walks of life, all perspectives and insights. There are exceptions on school boards, of course – feisty free-thinkers who defy the typical meekness and compliance of the “people people” who generally go into education. But there aren’t very many of them.

The Wall Street Journal provides a better way. In an article Nov. 19, “Building a Board That’s Independent, Strong and Effective,” a case was made for stripping every board of directors of cronies, insiders and rubber stamps. This advice is in the wake of Enron and WorldCom scandals that may have been avoided if the boards had critical mass of independent outsiders, as a good board should, who would have blown the whistle or at least asked the tough questions about what was going on.

The article quoted management professors as saying that board members have to be able to challenge management, but typically, local school boards and even the Nebraska State Board of Education have demonstrated little or no ability or willingness to buck the superintendents and staff. Little or no debate takes place and few alternatives are discussed . . . in sharp contrast to how a good board should operate.

Next time you vote for school board, find out if each candidate was an education major, used to work in education, or is married to an educator. Then vote accordingly.


Tax watchdogs have criticized an international junket of Omaha Public Schools employees who went down to Mexico in March at taxpayer expense, producing visions of OPS teachers in bikinis on the beach at Cancun.

Well, it may not have been exactly like that. According to a letter from Susan Mayberger, supervisor of English as a Second Language for the Omaha district, OPS didn’t pay for the trip. It was funded through the State Migrant Education program as part of the Bi-National Teacher Exchange, so apparently state and federal tax dollars, rather than local taxes, funded the air fare, hotel accommodations and food.

The six OPS employees visited nine schools and an orphanage on the five-day visit, meeting with principals, teachers and parents, according to Ms. Mayberger. In exchange, Mexican teachers have come to Omaha to teach migrant students in summer school for three to six weeks over the past few years, she wrote.

Is this a necessary and reasonable expense, regardless of which tax source funded it? You be the judge: OPS had 149 migrant students in the 2000-01 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (http://wwwnces.ed.gov/pubs2002/100_largest/table_15_2.asp
The 149 tally was on the low end of the totals of migrant students reported by the nation’s 100 largest school districts; those in California, Texas, Florida and Colorado have many times more migrants than OPS.


Sexual assault on a child: can there be anything more outrageous? But the trial of a schoolbus driver from South Sarpy School District out of Springfield, Neb., that ended in a mistrial Monday is just one more sign of the times.

The jury deadlocked over whether to convict Jay E. Bruna, 33, because two jurors reportedly thought there were inconsistencies in the story told by the 12-year-old boy about being forced into oral sex in the bus after school. Bruna has denied molesting the boy; he faces a retrial.

This is every parent’s nightmare. I have a friend who wondered why her son was getting home from school so late and found out his schoolbus was wandering ‘way off the supposed route. Children were waiting on the bus while the bus driver ran inside a quick shop to go to the bathroom or stopped at garage sales and so forth. He was reprimanded, and it stopped. But it still sent chills up her spine for what might have happened “in loco parentis” – while this person had complete control over her child in her absence.

The specter of child sexual abuse is not only a crime and a litigation risk for schools, but brings up several cautions: 1) parents and educators should teach children to kick and scream and run, rather than submit to what they know is wrong 2) teach district staff never to be alone with a child to avoid the appearance of impropriety 3) those who hire school staff ought to know the signs of pedophilia 4) for the protection of children and bus drivers alike, it’s smart to mount videocameras on buses, even if they are operated only on a spot-check or as-needed basis.

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