School boards would run Learning Community Council


February 23rd, 2011

Listen Now

Omaha, NE – Omaha-area school boards would take control of the Learning Community Coordinating Council under a proposal heard in the Legislature Tuesday.

The Learning Community would be governed by representatives from Omaha-area school boards, replacing the elected officials who currently make up the Council (Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

The Learning Community Council is currently made up of 18 elected members. Since its inception in 2007, that structure has been controversial – some arguing it’s too powerful, forming the second largest political body in the state. State Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha introduced a bill to change that structure, and replace it with a nine-member board made up of school board representatives. Supporters say the changes would create efficiencies, save costs and primarily, put school board members at the table when decisions are made about their districts. Some members of the education committee, which heard testimony on the bill, argued it is simply a bid for control. Mike Pate, representing the Millard Board of Education, disagreed.
“It’s not about control. Quite honestly, if you let this thing grow and expand, then you might be talking about control issues, and that’s my fear.”

“We all live it in each of our school districts,” he said. “We understand what the issues are … and we all have unique differences.” “So I don’t think it’s a control issue.” But he added, “the Learning Community was not created to be a super-board.”

Representatives from four school districts testified in support of the bill – Millard, Douglas County West, Papillion-La Vista and Elkhorn. Education Committee member Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln, questioning Rick Kolowski, the Chair of the Learning Community Council, said regressing to a divided city with competing districts shouldn’t be an option.

“Am I right that these school districts had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the Learning Community in the first place?”

Kolowski said he couldn’t comment on their “physical posturing” at the time, but agreed they were not in support. “The proponents of this bill stated that the passage of the LCC law was bad policy,” he said. “You’ve heard that at different times.”

Opponents of the bill included several other representatives from the Learning Community Council, as well as the Bellevue Public School Board. Some argued the bill would lessen community input, and may also violate the Voting Rights Act – by forcing a dilution of minority representation. That would contradict the original intent of the LCC, which was to close the achievement gap between poor, inner city kids – primarily minorities –and their wealthier counterparts in the suburbs. But Mike Pate said there’s nothing in the current structure of the board that achieves that goal. Achieving the goal requires funds, he said, not additional governance.

The Committee must still decide whether to advance the bill to full floor for debate.

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