The Omaha school board will face an overhaul at the polls this spring, but it won't contend with a legal challenge from the Douglas County attorney.
On the same day that Gov. Dave Heineman signed a bill that shrinks the board, Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said he won't pursue legal action that could have resulted in another special election for the Omaha Public Schools board this spring.
Kleine said the Legislature's final vote and Heineman's signature Monday helped make his planned legal action unnecessary, although he still believes that the district violated state law.
Kleine's court filing would have challenged whether six OPS board members were legally sworn in last month. State law had stated that they must be sworn in before the first Monday of January, but the new board members were sworn in on the first Monday.
Had Kleine filed his action and a Douglas County District Court judge agreed, there could have been another special election around the time of the already scheduled April primary and May general election.
“We didn't want to have two elections in April,” Kleine said in an interview Monday.
The day's events also officially started campaigns for some board members, while others were finalizing their election plans. They all have until March 1 to file.
The Legislature approved the bill on a 44-4 vote. It passed with the emergency clause, which means it took effect as soon as Heineman signed it. State Sens. Tanya Cook of Omaha, Al Davis of Hyannis, Russ Karpisek of Wilber and Norm Wallman of Cortland voted no. Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln abstained.
Legislative Bill 125 trims the board from 12 members to nine and places all seats up for election this spring. The election will coincide with the City of Omaha's elections.
Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha introduced the bill on Jan. 11. He has been trying to reduce the size of the board since last year. “People need to come forward and run for these seats,” he said.
If the Legislature hadn't advanced the bill so quickly, Kleine said, he probably would have filed his legal action. In the past couple of weeks, he met with interim OPS Superintendent Virginia Moon and attorney Mike Coyle about alternatives to a special election.
Kleine also talked with Speaker of the Legislature Greg Adams to gauge whether the OPS bill would pass.
And Kleine said he chatted with Douglas County Election Commissioner Dave Phipps, who told him that another special election could cost taxpayers about $100,000.
Kleine also spoke with Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and learned of an 1899 case in which the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that officials have the authority to waive technical violations, such as officials not properly taking an oath of office.
Through all those conversations, Kleine said, they agreed to see what the Legislature would do before filing the legal action.
“This was the common-sense approach to take,” Kleine said.
In the future, Kleine won't have to worry about OPS swearing in board members on time. The bill that became law Monday repeals the one requiring that board members be sworn in by a specific date or have their seats declared vacant.
Along with repealing that law, the bill puts board elections after this year back on the same schedule as the statewide primary and general elections — May and November.
OPS's even-numbered subdistricts will be up for election in 2014 and every four years thereafter. Odd-numbered subdistricts will be on a four-year cycle starting in 2016.
The bill also sets out new boundaries for board subdistricts.
The new map puts two pairs of current board members in the same district. Marian Fey and Bambi Bartek now live in the same subdistrict, as do Sarah Brumfield and Mary Morrissey. They would have to run against each other, if both choose to run.
Monday, board member Justin Wayne issued a press release that said he would run again.
Also Monday, Fey updated her campaign website and her Twitter account to reflect the day's happenings.
“Marian Fey For OPS Board,” her website states. “Vote April 2, 2013.”
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