Monday, October 16, 2006
CLASS I SUPPORTERS
HOST EDUCATION SUMMIT
IN KEARNEY LAST FRIDAY
Thanks to Angie Palmer, a Class I's United supporter, for this account of the meeting:
Supporters for the Repeal of Referendum 422 gathered October 13 for an education summit to launch the start of their campaign. Over 200 supporters gathered in Kearney to listen to Governor Heineman, Sen. Adrian Smith, Sen. Mike Foley, Sen. Abbie Cornett, Pete Ricketss, Former Attorney General Don Stenberg, as well as Class One attorney, John Recknor share their support for a repeal of Referendum 422.
Sen. Adrian Smith, a class one graduate and leading senator against LB 126, told the group that there needs to be local flexibility to allow Class One schools. Class One school offer rural students opportunities that they would not otherwise have.
Smith explained that in an attempt to close these schools arguments were made that Class One schools did not offer quality. However, once that was proven to be completely untrue, the argument changed to "Class One schools have too much quality; and it isn't fair."
He said, "When you take away quality so everyone can be equal, I won't tell you what that is; but it isn't capitalism."
By eliminating Class One schools the state is getting rid of the ability to reward excellence. Nebraska will lose excellence if it isn't rewarded.
Smith said that we need to repeal referendum 422 so flexibility will be allowed. Once the bill has been repealed the Legislature should step up to allow the schools to be reestablished.
The only thing that 126 did was to eliminate local school boards. Generally, Class One board members are parents. So basically all his bill did was to eliminate parental involvement in local school decisions.
"Just allow us to have local control over our decisions," Smith said.
Sen. Abbie Cornett, a state senator from Bellevue, spoke of the two most difficult decisions that she has made as a state senator. She said that the most difficult decision was about LB 126. She based her decision on the things that she heard at the time. She was told in 2005 that Class One schools cost too much, that Nebraska was ranked as a state with one of the most school districts, but ranked one of the lowest for student population, and eliminating Class One schools would reduce taxes.
"Now, I come to find out that it is NOT saving money!" Cornett said.
A year later LB 1024 was introduced. Cornett said that this bill is the absolute opposite of 126. The arguments that Class One supporters used were the same one that Raikes and Chambers used to get 1024 passed. Chambers said that breaking up districts would give more local control and better achievement. "The arguments were the same!" she said.
LB 1024 will not save money either. It will cost $26 million for bussing which will be paid for with state aid. Everyone in the state will be paying for this. Levies are going to be greatly increased.
"Where is the savings?" Cornett asked.
Cornett said, "We have forgotten what this is about. It is about how to best educate our children. We need choice. Everyone should have the right to choose what's best for our kids."
Former Attorney General Don Stenberg's inspirational speech brought a standing ovation.
"This fight is not over. This is a fight that we must win. This is a fight that we can win. This is a fight that we WILL win!" Stenberg said.
He outlined the strategy by saying that first we must win the referendum and secondly win the federal court lawsuit.
A brief history of the events leading up to the present was given. Stenberg said that supporters gathered enough signatures to grant a referendum vote in November. The District Court granted an injunction to stop implementation until after that vote. Despite the court decision, the Reorganization Committee met and dissolved the Class One schools denying Nebraska residents the right to vote and violating our due process.
"LB 126 is bad legislation and dissolving the schools before the vote is bad public policy." Stenberg said.
John Recknor, Class One attorney, said that LB 126 not only hurts Class One schools, its also bad for ESU's, and K-12 schools. He said that the problem is a heavy reliance on property taxes. There is a presumption of wealth if you own land. Consolidating schools doesn't save money because the land base stays the same. LB 126 does not save money, but rather it is costing $30 million because of the increase in teacher salaries and benefits and increase transportation costs.
When asked when the schools would be reestablished after a successful referendum, Recknor said that he would expect them to be reestablished immediately. He said that the Supreme Court said in the Pony Lake case that the referendum vote is not advisory because if repealed "the act is abrogated." According to Black's Law Dictionary abrogated means to repeal back to the beginning, like it never existed.
Sen. Mike Foley, a candidate for State Auditor, spoke of the two issues that interest him the most, the right to life and fiscal responsibility. He said that fiscal responsibility doesn't mean closing schools. Waste in state agencies is where the real problem is and that is what he would like to stop as the State Auditor.
Foley told the crowd, "Don't quit, stay with it! You will eventually win."
Pete Ricketts, U.S. Senatorial candidate, told those in attendance to stay involved. "Bad things can happen if you don't get involved."
Ricketts compared LB 126 with the federal law No Child Left Behind. It's a cookie cutter answer for the whole nation, and it doesn't work. LB 126 is the same story. We need to take the responsibility of maintaining educational quality away from the government and give it to the local people.
Governor Dave Heineman said many K-12 schools have told him that Class I students are their best and brightest students. Why change it? LB is not saving money.
Heineman says that he believes in quality, school choice and voluntary, not mandatory consolidation.
He told the group that this referendum vote is crucial, but it will need to be a grassroots effort. Everyone needs to get involved and work hard to get this law repealed.
"If the repeal succeeds, this will mean that the voters want Class Is to be reconstituted. When the voters have spoken no voice should be heard louder. A vote to repeal means that schools have the right to come back." the Governor said.
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