Monday, February 13, 2006


I gave my daily paper a workout over the weekend, rustling it in consternation over scary comments by two of the most important figures in Nebraska education.

In an op-ed in The World-Herald on Saturday, Sandra Jensen, president of the Board of Education of the Omaha Public Schools, wrote this head-scratcher:

“The goal of OPS is racially and socioeconomically integrated schools, with tax equity, across the city of Omaha.”

Ohhh! So THAT’S the goal! And we knucklehead voters and taxpayers thought the goal was educating children in the most cost-efficient manner possible. Silly us.

Then on Sunday, Doug Christensen, the state’s education commissioner, had me rustling it again over this eye-popper. He says we need to quit fussing over minute details like delivering quality “content” in education. Instead we need to make sure that kids are ready for real life:

“Do they have a good understanding of global citizenship?”

Ewwww! “Global”? Whatever happened to “American citizenship”? What is this, “We Are the World”? So American sovereignty is a minute detail, too, that we can back-burner, just like literacy and numeracy?




Despite scattered opposition and some negative letters to the editor, the $250 million bond issue in the Lincoln Public Schools is expected to pass handily Tuesday. The formula has mostly worked all over the state: schedule the vote during lousy weather season with nothing else on the ballot, and all you’ll get at the polls are the rah-rah’s with kids in school right now.

There’s been some good information on a blog set up by a former LPS board member, Peter Katt, on
www.lpsbonds.blogspot.com He opposes the measure because, he says, most of it is for “wants” rather than “needs.” He says LPS is now utilizing just 94% of its elementary classroom capacity, and with prudent boundary changes, could manage the projected enrollment increase of 1,000 over the next decade without building pricey new buildings, or at least so many.

A big sticking point for many voters has been the $31 million pricetag for a new middle school that’s part of the bond package. That compares to $13.5 million spent recently for a middle school in Waverly, Neb. Katt points out that the Waverly school is for fewer kids – 750 vs. 900 – but LPS would allocate 211 square feet per student vs. Waverly’s 139 or so.

Katt quotes the Tenth Annual (2005) School Construction Report published by the magazine School Planning & Management as stating that the national median cost for a middle school is $15 million, with a Midwest regional median cost of $8.6 million. So LPS looks to spend about 3½ times more than the regional median.

The $250 million in new debt amounts to $7,812 per pupil in LPS, and that’s not counting the 30 years of debt service and increased operating costs associated with the new space. LPS spent $7,686 per pupil in 2004-05.

But will the voters rise up and say “enough is enough”? Note that the Omaha Public Schools got a $254 million bond issue through its voters a few years ago, but came back for another $100 million, which was nixed.

Slowly, in big cities and small towns, we’re seeing more and more turn-downs on increased indebtedness. In relatively wealthy Carroll, Texas, last week, voters defeated a technology bond issue worth $19.5 million that would have given every teacher in the district a wide-screen laptop computer that cost $1,750 each, among other techno purchases. An unrelated construction bond issue did pass, barely. See:


As for the $10 million bond issue that’s on the ballot in the Ponca, Neb., area also on Tuesday, related to a proposal for a new secondary school, previous attempts in September 2004 and June 2005 failed by close votes. Proponents say the old school is beyond fixing and a new school with lots of amenities and parking would attract new families to the area. Opponents of this proposal say there just aren’t enough people shouldering that amount of debt to make it sensible. They say they would be for remodeling and perhaps adding on to their existing high school. See

They might want to check out a cool new trend that might make these huge bond issues a thing of the past: public-private partnerships are building new school buildings and operating them on a long-term lease as government schools and developers work together so both get what they want at less cost to the taxpayers. See
http://www.mackinac.org/article.aspx?ID=7511 for a model that could have made Tuesday’s votes in Lincoln and Ponca a lot more pleasant for taxpayers.

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