Members want to move quickly on OPS strategic plan - Omaha.com
Published Sunday, June 16, 2013 at 1:45 am / Updated at 11:43 pm
Members want to move quickly on OPS strategic plan

The new leadership of the Omaha school board is eyeing a top-to-bottom examination of how the Omaha Public Schools district does business, to look for areas of improvement.

Omaha school board President Justin Wayne and Vice President Lou Ann Goding told The World-Herald on Friday about plans to improve struggling schools, reduce transportation costs and operate more openly. A series of audits, they said, will look for inefficiencies and duplications and help set priorities for a strategic plan.

Here are excerpts from the interview with the OPS board's new leaders:

What priorities will be at the top of the agenda for the new superintendent, Mark Evans?

Wayne: For me, it all goes back to laying that foundation, so it's making sure we have the audits in place. The reason the audits are so critical is we need to know what we're currently doing in order to move forward. We don't want to come in and put a new program in if we already have a program that's effective and working. And then you combine that with our strategic plan over the next six months. You have the layer of “Here's what we're doing.” Now you have the strategic plan tell you “Here's where we're going to go and how we're going to get there.” I think it's critical for our superintendent over the next six months to make sure the audits are done correctly and then make sure we get the strategic plan in place so we can move forward as a district.

Goding: For me, it's always been about, OK, if student achievement is our end game, then you have to start backing up, and you get all the way back here, it has to be a strategic plan. ... There are some (audits) that are critical to helping us understand the success of the student. And so those are the ones that I think he'll spend probably a significant amount of time making sure they are properly managed and done.

The audits that you've mentioned — the word has various connotations, like something bad is going on. You're “auditing the books.” What do you mean?

Wayne: We may have six programs dealing with attendance. You look at those programs and ask “Is there overlap? Is there duplication? Are there gaps in there?” And then you look at the building level: How many programs in that building have to do with attendance? Well, lo and behold, we may have one that wasn't in our six at the administration, because this building's now doing something different. So we actually may have seven across the whole district. We may have eight. As for the curriculum audit, they look at our current curriculum, how that matches up with state standards, how it matches up with our mission, and how that all flows together, and are we actually aligned correctly to make sure our kids are getting, as far as curriculum, what they're supposed to get.

Goding: And they're not done by in-house people. The most important thing is that an outside firm or organization will be performing those, because we want to make sure we have an independent set of eyes looking at what's happening. On the curriculum one, it not only looks at the material we're using, but are we implementing it as we should in the classroom correctly, and the instruction portion as well.

How quickly is the strategic plan going to get put together?

Wayne:That's for the board to decide. I, individually, want it as soon as possible. Most board members wanted a strategic plan as soon as possible — at least, that's what the campaign said. But as you know, it all comes down to the details, what areas are we looking at. That might take some conversation and some time, because part of what the candidates said on the campaign trail was they wanted the community involved. Summertime is a big travel time. So we may have to wait till August, September to get the community portion in place to hear what the community has to say.

Former board President Freddie Gray was criticized for withholding important information about Nancy Sebring from the board. Do you believe there are times when it's appropriate for the board president or vice president to keep secrets from the board members?

Wayne: I'm not going to comment on Freddie Gray's situation. And I will say that anyone who puts their time into a public position that's not paid gets respect from me. I will say these are conversations we're going to have, and part of the conversation is “How do we handle attorney communications to the board?” That's a conversation Lou Ann and I are going to have later on this afternoon. That's a conversation we've got to have with the board. There are different things we could do. We could add another board member to the attorney (contact) list. There seems to be, over the years, there were just two people who had all the communication, and we have to figure out how to open up that communication.

The board has to make that decision.

During Freddie Gray's term as president, and under Sandy Jensen before her, only the board president and vice president were authorized to speak publicly about OPS matters. Critics would say that hindered debate and denied the public access to their representatives. Will you change that policy?

Wayne: The policy says the president speaks for the board. That's true in any organization. Every organization has a spokesperson. But I encourage individuals to speak. But if the board wants to have a conversation where we remove that broad policy, I'd be more than happy to put it on the agenda and have that conversation. This board as individuals have already talked to the media outlets after they were sworn in. The key is people have to understand when people go on the radio or go on television they're speaking as themselves and not as the entire board.

When you were first elected to the board, Justin, you were told you couldn't have the organizational chart you requested because, in part, the staff time to prepare it would exceed one hour, and lengthier requests had to be made by a board committee. Will you change that policy?

Wayne: That is something that if the board wants to look at, we'll have a conversation about it. One of the things we're going to try to do with this board is to either draft a policy or procedure that allows for the minority voice to be heard publicly by the board. I think if three or more board members want something on the agenda to have a full discussion about, then it should be placed on the agenda. We're going to make sure we have that conversation of how we do that.

Justin, you've expressed an interest in seeking proposals from law firms other than Baird Holm to provide legal services for the district. You've also said the district should look into hiring a number of in-house attorneys who could handle routine legal matters and potentially save money. Do you intend to put those items on the agenda for board consideration?

Wayne: I can tell you that three or more board members have expressed that this conversation take place. It's just a matter of where it fits on the agenda. I think we'll have that initial conversation before the end of July. As far as hiring in-house counsel, that recommendation has to come from Mr. Evans, unless the board wants to seek its own in-house attorney. A lot of it has to do with board members don't know how necessarily the legal services work. Is there a bidding process? What does it look like? What legal services do we even have?

Members of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce have expressed a desire to become engaged with the district. That relationship is certainly going to be stronger, since several of the candidates they backed are now on the board. In what concrete ways will that improved relationship change the way the board does business?

Wayne: The chamber and many groups have always wanted to be engaged, and now that they are I think we have to maximize their input and engagement for the entire community. It could be as grand as building a school, which is hypothetical, or as small as funding these audits, and we can keep more dollars in the classroom. It could be as complicated as helping aligning some of our curriculum with the workforce that is needed in the next five years, or as simple as having a conversation about what's going on in the OPS school system.

Goding: The chamber is working to make Omaha a better place. And so any help we can get from them in dollars they are already spending to find out what the community needs, let's use that information instead of trying to go out to re-create it ourselves. If they're working on the wheel, and they've got it rolling, then let's share that information and work together to develop a better community. I think that's what we'll see. Even with the strategic plan, there may be things that they can offer up to us, as far as what they're seeing, as far as education needs.

The district has certain schools that have struggled with very low test scores. Are you going to ask Evans to look specifically at those schools and come up with a plan to improve them?

Wayne: Generally speaking, from all the strategic plans that I've seen other districts do, they always have a student-achievement section that deals with low-performing schools. Until we have that conversation, I can't tell you what the board or this administration is going to do. But what I will tell you is that, moving forward, Mr. Evans has already told the board that principal evaluations will be done entirely different, where community, staff and student input will be taken, and of course student achievement will be taken, and it will be a lot more collaborative input process where we build that school from within. And that may mean we have principal placement changes or principals removed. I don't know what that entire process looks like. But I can tell you student achievement will be a huge factor in that.

Goding: Mr. Evans is committed to moving forward on that process sooner rather than later.

Contact the writer: Joe Dejka

joe.dejka@owh.com    |   402-444-1077

Joe's beat is education, focusing on pre-kindergarten through high school.

Teen killed at Gallagher Park was shot in head as he sat in SUV, friend who was wounded says
PAC funded by Senate candidate Ben Sasse's great-uncle releases Shane Osborn attack ad
Nikko Jenkins found guilty of 4 murders
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
Attorney: Man accused of trying to open plane's door needs psychiatric evaluation
49-year-old sentenced to 40-50 years for attempted sex assault of child
Brothers looking for pot sentenced for violent home invasion
At Boys Town panel, experts stress it's never too early to educate children
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
Gov. Heineman calls 2014 a 'very good year for Nebraska taxpayers'
Ex-Iowan behind landmark free speech case recounts story in Bellevue
Arrest made in teen's shooting death at Benson's Gallagher Park
Section of 50th Street to close for bridge demolition
Rather than doing $250K in repairs, owner who lives in lot behind 94-year-old house in Dundee razes it
Plans for new $16M YMCA in Council Bluffs at 'critical juncture'
Woodmen request would take nearly $40M in valuation from tax rolls
With fixed AC, Fort Calhoun's nuclear station ends brief shutdown
Windy day could make driving difficult on east-west roads
Richard Brown steps down as Charles Drew Health Center CEO
OPD safety expo set for April 26
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Crew working to disassemble International Nutrition plant
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
18-year-old arrested in stolen-car case
U.S. Senate candidate Bart McLeay trails his 3 GOP rivals in fundraising
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
Jessica Lutton Bedient was killed by a drunken driver at age 26 in 2010. Thursday, the widowed husband and other family members will gather with others at the University of Nebraska at Omaha to dedicate a permanent memorial to Jessica.
Breaking Brad: How much would you pay for a corn dog?
The Arizona Diamondbacks have a new concession item: a $25 corn dog. For that kind of money, it should be stuffed with Bitcoin.
Breaking Brad: Pothole repair crew gets stuck in a pothole
In East Lansing, Mich., a pothole repair crew got stuck inside a pothole. How did this not happen in Omaha?
Breaking Brad: What do the moon, Colorado senators have in common?
How about that "blood red" moon Monday? It was as red as the eyes of a Colorado legislator.
Breaking Brad: Hey, Republicans, are you ready to be audited?
A quick list of audit red flags: 3) You fail to sign your return. 2) You fail to report income. 1) You are a registered Republican.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Shoreline Golf Club
$40 for 2 Players, 18 Holes of Golf with Cart ($85 Value)
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »