Friday, April 07, 2006


A great idea surfaced Thursday in the ongoing battle over Omaha Public Schools’ bid to force consolidations with its neighboring suburban districts. There’s an unlikely hero: longtime Omaha State Sen. Ernie Chambers. He’s an avowed atheist and racial provocateur who also is one of the most effective legislators ever, anywhere . . . because he’s an avowed atheist and racial provocateur, apparently.

Deliciously different! With credibility to the utmost in the black community. And that may be the one factor that could give us a breakthrough in this long, divisive, ugly mess.

Ironically, the Nebraska Taxpayers Association proposed a plan very similar to Chambers’ ‘way back in the spring of 1996. The late Ed Jaksha led the group, which surveyed more than 600 inner-city households to see what direction they wanted their schools to take. The group proposed breaking up OPS into six districts – each comprised of two of its existing 12 subdistricts – which would have created two mostly-black mini-districts and four mostly-white ones. All would get equal revenues, and each would have an assistant superintendent or master principal in charge.

What was the reaction from OPS? They called the group “racist,” and reportedly never even took their thick, well-documented reports out of the box in which they were presented.

But enter Ernie Chambers, who’ll be term-limited out after this session, and no doubt is looking for a crowning achievement. This could be it.

His amendment to divide OPS from one behemoth district into three of more manageable size is an out-of-the-park home run. He’s a very bright guy, and he’s known for years that the issue isn’t racial integration, despite what the white left-wingers in the education establishment say – but the ever-widening achievement gap between children of color and children of the pinkish-beige persuasion, all up and down the demographic scale.

But wouldn’t this give us one “white” district, one “black” district and one “Hispanic” district? Noooooo. Everybody’s free to live wherever they want in Omaha; obviously, we need more low-income housing in the hinterlands to make that happen, but that’s not the schools’ fault.

What the Chambers plan would give us is local control of local schools by local educators and local taxpayers and voters. What on earth is wrong with that? It would make teaching and administration jobs and career ladders to the big bucks more accessible to minority educators. What on earth is wrong with that?

Isn’t it the height of racism to suggest that minority educators can’t fill the bill as well as white ones? So come on . . . education is, after all, an occupation. Let’s give all races a level playing field, both in the classroom and in the executive suite.

The most important benefit of the Chambers plan is that it would give minority educators a long-deprived shot at individualizing schools to better meet individual needs. The appalling test scores and dropout rates of inner-city Omaha have been crying out for decades for a return to the 3 R’s in the early grades as an academic foundation. Without having to battle through the thickets of the consolidated education bureaucracy, they could get that done. Smaller thickets are more do-able.

A top-notch curriculum is the surest way to racial equality in this town, and this change may be the only way to get it in place for needy kids.

Now, school politics is often a first step to a political career. With this reformulation, minority Omahans would have a meaningful chance to get some experience in politics, and build a track record, since there would be more school board seats available. Right now, if I remember right, there are 10 white school-board members on OPS, one black and one Hispanic. That’s not exactly a fountain of opportunity.

What else is exciting is that nobody but Chambers has the credibility to pull this off. The move is a master stroke of exposing the duplicity and hypocrisy of white education leaders who have fallen all over themselves to do everything BUT what it would take to close that gap. Chambers’ timing is impeccable, and even though I can’t stand a lot of the stuff he does that denigrates the Lord Jesus Christ and Christian values, I have to salute and admire him in many ways.

The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same things over and over, and expect a different result. That appears to be OPS’ approach over the last 30 or 40 years or so.

What’s needed is a shakeup, and Sen. Chambers offers it.

That’s the good news. The BAD news is, the plan by Lincoln Sen. Ron Raikes in LB 1024 is still alive, too. It would allow Chambers’ plan to go through, but it would still put all the metro districts’ necks into a consolidated noose as a “learning community,” with collective decision-making and collective fund-sharing. Key word: “collective.”

Remember the communist slogan: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”? That’s what this would be.

Chambers plan: thumbs up. Learning community: thumbs down.

Stay tuned!

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