Schoolyard Fight

Omaha’s Most Contested School Board Primary

Half of the non-partisan Omaha Public School Board’s twelve seats are up for election this year. Of the six expiring terms, two subdistricts have uncontested candidates and three subdistricts have two candidates, leaving only one subdistrict with a competitive primary – subdistrict 12.

West Omaha’s Omaha Public School subdistrict 12 has five candidates, three Republicans and two Democrats, who range from a grandparent to teachers and attorneys to a former Nebraska State Senator. They are fighting for two spots in the general election to represent the only district with a population over 30,000

School district boundaries were redrawn in 2011 to account for the population shifts reported in the 2010 US Census. The new boundary lines added 3,126  people to subdistrict 12  Serving Standing Bear, Saddlebrook, Picotte, Sunny Slope and Joslyn schools, its jagged cutout extends to 168th street on the west, I-680 on the east, Ida on the north and roughly Blondo on the south.

Republicans recruited Randi Scott to run for subdistrict 12. Democrat and former State Senator Patrick Bourne is also running. Dorrell Nutter, Jennifer Tompkins Kirshenbaum, and Tom Green round at a race where key issues include transparency about spending, student proficiency and readiness.

Dorrell Nutter, (Republican) 72, is a grandfather, has a UNO business administration degree and is retired after 36 years with M.U.D. Concerns about the U.S. Department of Education motivate him. “I will do all that I can to abolish the federal department of education and return local control,” advises Nutter. “It has interfered with and impeded education.”

“I’m running because I care,” Nutter states, “I married a schoolteacher. I have a pretty good handle on the schools. Children today are the future of tomorrow. I was concerned about the unwillingness of the current school board to cooperate with the community.”

Jennifer Tompkins Kirshenbaum, (Democrat) 39, is married with two children, has an MBA from UNO and previously served two terms on the board for Sanitary Improvement District (SID) 370. “I obtained my teaching certificate three years ago. I’m in the classroom 3 to 4 days a week. I see the current strategies for success helping student achievement.”

“I’m concerned about all of our students. I want to make sure that things are in place for the kids who receive free and reduced lunch as well as the students who do not,” Kirshenbaum advises. “I want to make sure that Omaha is competitive with other districts. I believe we should utilize and expand read/write and other programs to benefit the kids. If students don’t meet the threshold, then they receive help.”

Tom Green, (Republican) 39, also has served two terms on a SID board., is a local attorney with children in OPS.  “I’m concerned about the current state. Running for the school board is an opportunity to have greater insight and say into what happens. We need to find ways to motivate kids that don’t just develop programs and push them on teachers.”

“There is almost a disconnect between teachers and the school administration. Teachers should have more say in what goes on,” said Green. “My wife is a teacher. We need to focus funds and programs so that training is first and then we can effectively implement the program. We should be trying to motivate all learners. “

Another educator and school law attorney running for subdistrict 12 is Randi Scott, 33, who is married with two children. “I taught for three years in Lincoln at Southwest High School and for two years in OPS at Northwest High School. After obtaining bachelors and master’s degrees in special education, I graduated from law school specializing in school law. I have received Justin Wayne’s endorsement on my candidacy. People can have confidence that I will not be a ‘rubber stamp’ when I vote on matters.
 
“As a special education teacher, I saw students who weren’t ready having to be passed through, said Scott. “Yearly teacher reviews aren’t done. We need to know how our money is spent and where it goes. We need to address busing, look at all our programs with transparency to the community.”

Patrick Bourne’s candidacy has drawn fire from the Douglas County Republican Party. A former Nebraska state senator, Bourne (Democrat) fought legislation proposed Senator Ernie Chambers to break OPS into three school districts. Republicans have complained that as a vice president for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska, which provides health care benefit coverage for school district employees, Bourne has a conflict of interest.

“Anyone can have a conflict of interest,” states Bourne. “My interest in running for the Omaha school board is because I have a six-year-old daughter in school here. We need to manage our money, pay special attention to the budget and build our relationship with Lincoln so that we are at the table when the dollars are doled out.”

posted at 10:29 pm
on Tuesday, May 08th, 2012

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