Lincoln Public Schools is one of the things that drew Bob Rauner away from Sidney, the western Nebraska town where he grew up and later practiced medicine.
It wasn’t the only drawing card back in 2003 — long before he’d considered a bid for the school board — but it was a plus.
Rauner is running unopposed for the District 6 seat on the Lincoln Board of Education.
Rauner, 49, was born in Sidney but spent his first nine years in Omaha, where his dad attended Creighton University. When the family moved back to Sidney, his dad was an accountant but also farmed, which meant he had a regular — non-negotiable — job as a farmhand.
He left for Creighton University after graduation, earning an undergraduate degree there and a medical degree from the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
He met his wife, Lisa, in med school and followed her to the Lincoln Family Medicine Residency Program.
When the couple finished their residency, they joined a practice in Sidney.
Five years later, the Lincoln Family Medicine Residency program called and asked if they’d like to come teach.
They weren’t happy with their practice in Sidney — and had been considering opening their own — and had just watched Sidney voters defeat a school bond issue by a 2-1 margin. They didn’t think that boded well for the community’s commitment to the school district, and they liked LPS.
“Part of what played into us coming back was the school system,” he said.
In the years Rauner had been away from the Lincoln practice — one of the largest Medicaid providers in the city — the rates of diabetes and obesity had ballooned, especially in young patients, he said.
He screened his patients' activities and habits to try to set them on a healthier track, and when he asked one young patient what he did during school recess he was shocked at the answer: they didn’t have recess.
“It was the ‘heyday’ of No Child Left Behind,” he said. “They were cutting everything.”
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Schools were so focused on the core subjects of reading and math because of the testing and reporting requirements of the federal education law that they cut down on recess and other academic subjects, he said.
He also was dismayed that many schools had fundraisers that sold junk food and pop. So he started making calls.
Eventually, he spoke to the now-retired Marybell Avery, who was LPS' health and physical education curriculum coordinator and as passionate as he was about making LPS a healthier place.
By 2008, his wife was working at Bryan Women’s Care and Rauner was working on his master’s in public health through Johns Hopkins University.
He got a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to study the connection between poverty, obesity, fitness and academic achievement.
He worked with LPS officials to gather and analyze statistics and, over time, his work showed a connection, especially between fitness levels and academic performance — and that the effects of poverty influenced all three other factors.
Since he began working with LPS, the district has added a minimum required time for recess, and quit running fundraisers that sold junk food.
“It’s become a healthier culture,” he said.
His work helped him understand what a large organization LPS is and that change takes time, but he learned something else, too, he said.
“LPS doesn’t quit on kids.”
In 2010, he left the residency program to head a nonprofit organization called Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln. In 2017, he became chief medical officer for an Accountable Care Organization called OneHealth Lincoln. The Accountable Care Organization is a new model of health care that focuses on wellness and preventing any unnecessary hospitalizations.
He’s also coordinated the Rotary District 5650 Youth Exchange Program for a number of years, a program in which two of his daughters participated.
His youngest daughter is a senior at Southeast High School, and Rauner has served on various committees, including co-chairing a task force on priorities for a new high school.
He’s run for seats in the Nebraska Legislature and the Nebraska Board of Education and said one of the reasons he's drawn to the LPS board is because education and public health are so closely linked.
“If you’re a public health person you know education has a big impact,” he said.
Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @LJSreist.