LINCOLN — A new nine-member Omaha school board would be chosen this spring, and four of those seats would be up for election again next year under a bill that moved closer to the governor's desk Wednesday.
The school board members just elected in November, however, would avoid back-to-back-to-back elections under an amended subdistrict map attached to the bill before second-round passage.
Legislative Bill 125 would trim the board from 12 members to nine and make all members run for their seats this spring. The election would coincide with the City of Omaha's elections.
The bill passed after lawmakers made two notable changes to an earlier version of it.
After this spring, future Omaha Public Schools elections would move back on the same schedule as the statewide primary and general elections — May and November.
OPS's even-numbered districts would be up for election in 2014 and every four years thereafter. Odd-numbered districts would be on a four-year cycle starting in 2016.
Under an earlier version of the bill, the nine board members were to be elected every four years on the same schedule as Omaha city elections.
State Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha, who helped work out the compromise amendment, said he didn't want the board elections to stay with the city election cycle because the general election brings out more voters than the city elections.
If the goal is accountability and transparency, he said, it makes sense to have the largest number of people select board members.
But Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist said he preferred to stay with the city election cycle, with the primary in April and the general election in May.
He said school board races get lost amid all the other federal, state and local races in the general election.
Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, who introduced the bill, said he could see arguments either way.
Harr also helped renumber the subdistricts to make sure no board members who were elected in November would have to run again this spring and then again in 2014, Lautenbaugh said.
One newly elected OPS member appreciated the gesture. “It makes it a little easier,” said Sarah Brumfield, who was elected in November.
She was elected in subdistrict 4. Had the districts not been renumbered, she would have had to campaign for office this spring and again next year.
But, with the new map, she resides in subdistrict 9. That seat would be open this spring and again in 2016.
Other board members could face more elections.
If Justin Wayne wants to keep his board seat until 2015, he would have to run for election this spring and next year. Wayne was first elected to the board in 2010.
“That takes a toll on your campaign workers, that takes a toll on everything,” said Wayne, who doesn't know if he'll run again. “I'm not complaining, though. I signed up for it.”
Four current board members would face another incumbent if all choose to run again.
Under the new map, Marian Fey and Bambi Bartek now live in the same district, as do Brumfield and Mary Morrissey.
If the bill passes, all candidates have until March 1 to file for election.
Senators also evened out the population counts of north Omaha subdistricts but largely left the map's boundaries alone, Lautenbaugh said.
The bill passed second round on a voice vote; Lautenbaugh said it could be up for final approval Monday.
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