Friday, February 10, 2006

News Briefs:
Class I Barristers, Bonds,
Booze and 'Black Flight'

The Nebraska Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday on whether or not to let education officials continue the process of consolidating the state’s 205 elementary-only, Class I country schools into neighboring K-12 districts, or come to a grinding stop. A ruling is expected in two weeks.

Class I’s United leader Mike Nolles of Bassett praised the job done by his group’s attorney, senatorial candidate and former Nebraska attorney general Don Stenberg.

At issue is LB 126, passed last legislative session mandating the change without a vote of the people affected. Enough citizens statewide signed a petition last year to force the issue onto the November ballot rather than letting the schools die by regulation.

Now the group is hoping the Court will make that vote unnecessary by declaring the law unconstitutional. The Court also could grant a permanent injunction that would make the educrats wait for the people’s will to be voiced in November before going ahead with consolidation plans. Or it could rule that consolidation could go ahead, and if the vote goes the Class I group’s way in November, education officials would have to put everything back in place.


Nolles also said the response has been “phenomenal” to his group’s booth at the Omaha Home and Garden Show downtown at the Qwest Center. Nebraskans have an opportunity to sign a petition that would require a vote of the people affected before any school consolidation could take place. The show continues through this weekend.


Lincoln Bond Issue Vote
Poses $250 Million Question

A review of the $250 million bond issue that’ll be up for a vote by citizens of the Lincoln Public Schools on Tuesday:

-- The actual construction total would be $314.6 million in projects, adding $64.6 million already in LPS’ hands.

-- Much of the cost is to update heating and air conditioning systems in schools that already have air conditioning, including 10 elementary and three middle schools, and Bryan Community.

-- Building two elementary schools and replacing Arnold Elementary

-- Renovating Lincoln High, Southeast, Northeast and East

-- Adding to and renovating numerous other schools, including work to make grade schools able to accommodate all-day kindergarten

-- A new elementary school in southeast Lincoln and additional elementary classroom space

-- A new middle school in south Lincoln

And On the Ballot in Ponca:

A proposal to build a new secondary school serving Grades 7-12 on a new site in Ponca, Neb., for $10 million, will also be up for a vote Tuesday. The fur has been flying, as a citizens’ group --
www.abcscommittee.org – has calculated that with interest and other costs, the actual cost to local taxpayers will be close to $20 million over 30 years. They’re on record pleading for a “no” vote and a return to the drawing board for a more modest remodeling of the existing school.


Bragging on MySpace.com
Nails 7 Lincoln East Students For Boozing

According to a techno education website, seven Lincoln East varsity and JV basketball players were suspended from school for two weeks when a school staff member saw their posting on the diary-style personal website,
www.MySpace.com The post discussed their students’ experiences while drinking alcohol. Read about the hazards of electronic self-expression on:



The Scoop on Advanced Placement
And International Baccalaureate Programs

The World-Herald played the story of Nebraska’s second-to-last ranking in the percentage of high-school graduates in the various states who take Advanced Placement tests on Page One, with a Chicken Little headline: “Nebraska Teens Lag on Difficult AP Tests.”

http://www.omaha.com/index.php?u_pg=1640&u_sid=2112861). But is the situation really that grave?

Nah. All over the country, folks are up in arms over how the College Board is dumbing down the AP classes to induce more schools to buy into the program and “look good on paper” to parents and the public. Selective colleges are beginning to not even accept AP credits any more. High schools are labeling courses as AP quality when they shouldn’t, as measured by the fact that not all and sometimes not most of the students enrolled in those courses actually take the exam at year-end, and fewer still score a “3” or higher and obtain college credit.

Nebraska looks bad because only 4.4% of our 19,093 graduates in the Class of 2005 got a “3” or higher on last year’s AP tests, above only Louisiana. Ah, but that’s not the whole story. The real statistic, which The World-Herald and many others missed, is the percentage of kids who took AP tests and got the “3” or higher. In that measurement, Nebraska looks OK: 61% of those who tried got the college credit. That’s right at the national average.

The point is, Advanced Placement is just one of a wide variety of academic programs intended to enhance student opportunities. Many Nebraska high schools would rather keep control over their curriculum and give their teachers wide latitude to teach the way they want to, rather than knuckling under to the AP way. It could become a de facto national curriculum, which would defeat local control, and that’s a big uh-oh. Considering that Nebraska’s average ACT score ranks 12th in the nation, it wouldn’t do to get too worked up over this.

As for President Bush’s call to increase federal funding for more AP courses and more promotion of the no-good, very-bad International Baccalaureate program – also known as “Socialism Prep” – here’s hoping Nebraskans can keep a wary eye, and dance with who brung us – local control.


Is OPS Making Omaha
Ripe For ‘Black Flight’?

Minneapolis school superintendent Thandiwe Peebles resigned recently in the wake of bad news about minority test scores and graduation rates – bad news that mirrors what is going on in the Omaha Public Schools.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that last year, 28 percent of black Minneapolis eighth-graders passed the state's basic skills math test, and 47 percent passed the reading test. In 2004, the black high school graduation rate in the district was 50 percent.

Those stats aren’t all that different from what we see in OPS.

In response to the dismal academic track record, families are fleeing inner-city Minneapolis. Now "black flight" is a serious and growing problem for the Minneapolis district, contributing to cuts in funding and staff, and leading to shuttered classrooms, the newspaper reported:

”In 1999-2000, the district had about 48,000 students. Enrollment in 2008 is projected to be only about 33,400. Part of the loss is caused by lower birthrates. But in the early 1990s, district kindergartens were capturing around 70 percent of kids born in Minneapolis. Today, it's only about 50 percent.”

The bulk of departing students are choosing charter schools, which are opening in Minneapolis at a rapid pace. In a 2003 Minneapolis district survey, black parents were noticeably less satisfied with district schools than other parents. But charter-school parents were very satisfied with their schools.

”Black leaders predict that the next superintendent in Minneapolis is going to have to shake up the entrenched system, changing union rules and other obstacles to meaningful changes in the way schooling is delivered in the city’s most challenging environments.


A $9 Million Theater in Lincoln Public Schools
Is a Dramatic – Even Tragicomic – Example
In the Upcoming $250 Bond Issue

Lincoln Public Schools officials had to be wincing when a senior at Southwest High School said in a Lincoln Journal article the other day that her school’s theater cost $9 million and she gets to “play” in it every day after school.

That’s a dramatic revelation. Is it tragedy? Is it comedy? Depends on your perspective.

Since LPS has a $250 million bond issue on the ballot Tuesday, the timing of that little bombshell exploding onto taxpayers’ already-frayed nerves has to be upsetting for them. The whole point of that quarter-of-a-billion dollar debt is supposedly to improve academics, especially for low-income and minority children in Lincoln. But you could buy 900,000 paperback books at $10 apiece and give each child in LPS 30 good books each for $9 million.

Read the interview on:

The person who answered the phone at Southwest said that the $9 million figure is the one she had always heard around school for the 600-seat theater, but suggested I check with the district. A call to Dennis Van Horn, LPS associate superintendent for business, revealed that the official district stance has never been to separate out the cost of individual sections of the high school, which was finished in 2002 at a cost of $45 million, including furnishings and equipment.

When asked if he saw the article, Van Horn said he did, and that the $9 million figure seemed too high, but didn’t take action to clarify it because he’s got his hands full managing the $250 million bond issue proposal.

Whatever. I just compare pictures of it to the theaters I’ve attended in Omaha. The only one that seems fancier is the new Holland Center. And that’s for Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman, not high-school kids.

For a grand finale to this story, visit
http://teachers.lps.org/bhenrich/stories/storyReader$25 and see if somebody ought to be doing a little rescripting for the Southwest drama teacher. Look at the misspelled words, grammar errors and inappropriate language on this page. I’m sure he’s a ton of fun and it looks as though he works hard to relate to the kids on their level. But it’s a bit disconcerting to remember that he’s in charge of this lavish, state-of-the-art, taxpayer-funded theater:

“knarley” for “gnarly”
“excercises” for “exercises”
“gawd” for “God”

; instead of :
missing the word “have” in “If you questions”
inappropriate expression: “shot in the buttocks”
missing apostrophe in “someone elses”

Yes, the Bard said, “All the world’s a stage” . . . but honest to goodness, how are taxpayers supposed to keep paying for it?


Local Control of Public Schools:
Use It Or Lose It!

Sign the Petition to Protect Schools
From Unwanted Consolidation at the
Qwest Center Home & Garden Show This Weekend

Please stop by the Nebraskans for Local Control booth and sign the petition.

Hours: Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Home show cost: $6 for adults; children ages 6-12 $3; 5 and under free.

If you can help staff the booth, won’t be in downtown Omaha this weekend but still want to sign, or want to help the petition efforts in any other way, please contact Cindy Carlson of Holdrege.
Email is tycync@atcjet.net and cell phone number is (308) 991-2420.


This whole school consolidation thing is beginning to look very fishy. The way the superintendents are whoopin’ on each other, raining blows right and left, and yet in the end everything they’re fighting for will wind up costing us more money, reminds me distinctly of the fake body slams put on by the bulbous participants in the World Wrestling Federation.

Could this all just be a show?

Could this be a fake crisis that’s being used to stir people up in one direction, so that the REAL goal can quietly be inserted behind our backs?

I mean, could the Omaha Public Schools and Class I consolidation crises be a manufactured, manipulated distraction so that the powers that be can usher in what they REALLY want, but which we citizens would never otherwise have accepted – county-wide school consolidation?

John Bonaiuto, executive director of the Nebraska Association of School Boards, was quoted last June 8 in The World-Herald as saying: “It would not be a stretch to see legislation that looked for one school district per county.”

For the last few decades, the push by the teachers’ unions and the educrats has been to wrestle away local control and voting rights by the people, and replace it with “governance” and collective bargaining and interlocal agreements. Why? Because it’s so much easier to get your own way when you don’t have to mess with those pesky citizens and taxpayers. Just take their money . . . and run with it.

The whole Outcome-Based Education thing, and Goals 2000, which has morphed into No Child Left Behind, are targeted toward nationalization of our schools. What’s blocking it? Local control.

Well, thank goodness for Nebraskans for Local Schools (
www.nebraskansforlocalschools.org). They are running a petition drive to try to get a state constitutional amendment on the ballot that would protect local control of schools. If it passes, then there would have to be approval by the majority of voters in any school district before it can dissolve, merge or affiliate with any other school district.

The best defense is a good offense. If this had been in place before the OPS and Class I messes, then we’d never have scary legislation like LB 1050, the countywide school consolidation bill.

It would make Nebraska into a mini-Soviet Union with schools run by educrats instead of a beautiful patchwork quilt of democracy knit strong with lots of stitches representing lots of locally-elected school boards.

I mean, trust me: it’s hard enough to get listened to in today’s moderately-sized school districts. Just imagine any education decision-maker giving a rip about what you think if the district goes countywide in the future.

You could try all the body slams, half-Nelsons and over-the-head spins you want. But it’d be just like WWF: it’d all just be for show, and you couldn’t ever really win.

Get behind this petition. They need something like 30,000 more signatures. Hop to it!

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