State Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh wants to introduce legislation aimed at Omaha Public Schools, but some proposals -- including authorizing charter schools and putting a cap on superintendent salaries -- could affect districts statewide.
“Recent events involving the Omaha Public School District board, its superintendent search, the outgoing superintendent’s lavish and apparently unknown compensation package, and the ongoing sense of chaos and underperformance by the board and/or the district have convinced me more than ever that change is needed within OPS,” he said.
Retired OPS Superintendent John Mackiel will get a lump sum payment of about $1 million as part of his retirement package. And the search for his replacement has been mired in controversy, including a new superintendent who left after her sexually explicit emails became public.
Lautenbaugh again would try to limit the 12-member OPS board to seven members. He introduced a similar bill last session but eventually asked that it be withdrawn from the legislative debate agenda.
He said he generally favors local control for school districts but was “appalled” by Mackiel’s compensation package and thinks the state needs to take action.
Sen. Greg Adams, chair of the Education Committee, questioned whether the state could devise legislation on administrators’ compensation packages that would work in all parts of the state, because the needs of rural districts are so different than those in urban areas.
“I get very concerned when I see a situation like OPS, but I also worry about trying to create a law that fits everybody,” he said.
Lautenbaugh also proposes authorizing charter schools, which get some state funds but operate autonomously from public school boards. He said they could offer a solution for parents whose children attend low-performing schools in Omaha.
Charter legislation has been introduced a couple of times in the last 25 years but has not been successful. The fact that Nebraska doesn’t allow charter schools has handicapped its attempts to get some federal Race to the Top grants.
Adams said he would be willing to discuss the limited use of charter schools in urban areas, but has a number of concerns including that they have not been the panacea many believe them to be. He also said it is hard to track the use of state funds since charter schools aren't overseen by a public board.
Lautenbaugh also wants to pursue a “clearer, swifter mechanism” for the state to step in and run schools deemed to be failing.
The Nebraska Department of Education recently devised a system to rank the performance of schools and districts based on a combination of test scores and improvement from year to year.
It has not determined when schools should be considered low performing, or what consequences they should face.