Friday, April 28, 2006


A brilliant solution to the mess over the Omaha Public Schools comes from a GoBigEd reader named Lori. She says that since OPS started the whole “one city, one school district” thing over its interpretation of an 1891 state law, then OPS should have its way. . .

. . . with the territory that it had in 1891.

And here’s what that was, according to an 1890 Omaha city street map available for sale on eBay. The price is $8.99 plus $5 shipping and handling; maybe the four suburban superintendents who feel so threatened by the whole deal could chip in. Take a look at what OPS has restricted itself to, by its dogmatic stance:

I can’t quite tell, but I bet OPS would still have Central and North High Schools. I haven’t looked at the OPS Board of Education districts, but this would probably be a giant kiss-off to most of those board members, who have presided over this whole debacle, instead of providing real leadership when it was sorely needed, and probably deserve to lose their seats anyway.

This “right-sizing” may be the only way to “right-size” the OPS central office, too. And if a whole bunch of educrats were removed from the TAC Building, guess what? They might be able to turn it back into Technical High School – which it should have been, all along, instead of a gigantic mausoleum to educational bureaucracy.

A dedicated voc-tech high school! Wouldn’t THAT be a cool development? Wouldn’t THAT be an “innovative” way to deal with the 50% dropout rate of African-American children in OPS? You don’t suppose that’s what a lot of high schools were like in 1891?!? What a concept!

What about all the neighborhoods that sprang up after the 1891 law was passed, and wouldn’t be included in the “right-sized” OPS because they didn’t exist in 1891?

Here’s another concept: let’s set up a temporary election commissioner and a special election. Who will be voting? The people who live in post-1891 OPS neighborhoods. We could structure it so that each high school and its “feeder” grade schools and middle schools could be a separate voting district. By majority rule, they will decide which district gets their tax dollars from now on.

Now, you know those suburban districts, such as Millard, Ralston, Westside, Elkhorn and all the rest? They could compete with OPS to become the district of the voters in each of those post-1891 districts. It doesn’t matter that their territory isn’t contiguous, in this day and age of electronic communication, for heaven’s sake.

But there are some juicy morsels of state aid to education attached to each child – worth fighting for. Instead of taking children for granted and getting stuck in a rut the way OPS apparently has, these new bidders would compete for the privilege of serving them. OPS could fight to keep them, which would be a good thing for OPS, too.

Each district could campaign to provide the type of academics that people want. They could set up information fairs and blitz the voters with brochures of ways that they can address the particular learning needs of the neighborhood children.

Then let those taxpayers VOTE which district they want to align with, by majority rule. Maybe it’ll still be OPS. But maybe not.

Facilities and assets would flow with the vote of the people to the district that they choose. Teachers and other building staff already working in each building could apply for jobs with to the new district, and most likely, most of them will be re-hired, although this would be a good opportunity to do some personnel pruning that OPS has apparently not been willing to do.

Sure, it’s out of the box. But hey: isn’t just about anything better than what we’ve got?

Sure. And next week, we’ll look at school choice – an even BETTER answer.

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