More OPS candidate coverage The World-Herald is providing interviews with candidates for the Omaha Public Schools board and asking them for their views on several issues facing the district. For other coverage of this and other school board races, check omaha.com/ops.
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The race to represent west Omaha on the Omaha school board might be the most contrasting of the nine contests.
Nancy Kratky, the 76-year-old incumbent, has taught in the Omaha Public Schools and has been on the OPS board for almost 52 years — longer than her challenger has been alive.
For the past 18 years, Kratky has been involved with every board decision.
The “one city, one school district” decision to try to take over neighboring districts to give OPS more money and more land? She voted with the board.
Approving the contract of former OPS Superintendent John Mackiel — the contract that gave Mackiel a $1 million payout in addition to his annual pension? She voted for it.
But Kratky says she has learned from her years on the board. She wants Subdistrict 6 voters to look at her more recent votes as proof.
She was the only OPS board member who didn't vote to hire Nancy Sebring, the Des Moines superintendent who got the OPS position, then lost it after sexually-explicit emails that were sent from her Des Moines work account were made public. (Kratky abstained.)
She also was one of four board members who voted to remove Freddie Gray as board president in August following Gray's handling of the Sebring situation. Gray later resigned.
“These are the kinds of votes that people in my area appreciate,” Kratky said.
Challenger Matt Scanlan, a 39-year-old Omaha businessman, says he see things much differently from Kratky.
Scanlan enrolled in the Naval Academy Prep School and entered the U.S. Naval Academy after graduating from Omaha Central in 1992.
He also served as a naval flight officer before he and his wife moved back to Omaha in 2006 and he started working for the family business, Woerner Wire Works, a steel fabricator in north Omaha.
During his time in the Navy and in running a business, Scanlan said he's learned the principles of accountability and responsibility. “People have jobs to do, and when that doesn't happen, they need to be held accountable,” he said.
As he sees it, the board has not done its job of overseeing OPS, so voters should hold Kratky accountable next month.
“Yes, there are positives in OPS,” he said. “The board is not one of them.”
Scanlan was particularly frustrated with what board members, including Kratky, did in June 2011.
The board voted 9-2 to keep its policy on reporting possible sexual abuse, a policy that let school officials investigate complaints of sexual abuse before calling police. Under that policy, if OPS officials didn't think that sexual abuse had occurred, they did not forward the complaints to police. That happened twice with allegations made against a former OPS middle school teacher who was later convicted of child abuse and sexual assault by communication device.
“We thought we were covered,” Kratky said.
In April 2012, though, the OPS board changed its policy: Law enforcement authorities are now to be alerted within 24 hours after a student alleges sexual misconduct by teachers or staff members.
Like the OPS board, Kratky says she has learning from her decisions.
She regrets the “one city, one school district” vote because of how it damaged OPS's relationships with other metro districts. (OPS tried to take over 25 schools and land belonging to three suburban districts: Millard, Ralston and Elkhorn. The effort cited an 1891 state law that OPS said allowed it to absorb portions of other districts within the Omaha city limits.)
She also wishes that Mackiel would not have taken the $1 million retirement payout all at one time.
“We were trusting what was being said to us” by school district attorneys, Kratky said. “Nobody expected anything like that.”
She would have been OK with him taking it in smaller portions, though, such as $50,000 a year over 20 years.
Kratky said voters should keep her around because she knows the district's past — good and bad — and will make sure that mistakes aren't repeated.
Scanlan said the Nebraska Legislature, in shrinking the board and calling for spring elections, essentially fired the board.
“We don't need continuity when we have a board that isn't doing its job,” he said.
If he were elected, he would work to expand preschool opportunities for students, especially those from low-income families. He proposed a public awareness campaign, about the benefits of preschool, similar to the campaign undertaken to make parents more aware of the benefits of attendance.
Scanlan said he's confident that he could find extra money in the OPS budget to spend on more preschool. Having served in the Navy, he said, he knows there's always money being wasted in a bureaucracy.
Scanlan also wants more students to enroll at the OPS Career Center and more career-education partnerships forged with businesses and organizations.
Kratky said that, if re-elected, her next board term will focus on three things: academic achievement — “raising standards for all students” — safety and communication.
“We need someone to tell our story,” she said.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1074, email@example.com, twitter.com/jonathonbraden
Occupation: Retired educator
Public offices held: Current OPS board
Education: Bachelor's degree, master's degree in education
Family: Two adult children
Occupation: Vice president/project manager, Woerner Wire Works
Public offices held: None
Education: U.S. Naval Academy
Family: Married, two daughters
Q&A with the candidates
Should OPS increase career education offerings and, if so, how? With a new technical high school, more career-education classes at each high school or other ways?
Scanlan: OPS should expand its career center and form more partnerships with businesses. The district also should partner more with other metro districts on career education so each district isn't offering the same program.
Kratky: OPS already has does a good job with career education, she said, including in the fields of medicine, culinary, broadcast and auto mechanics. Kratky also said she's even had her car fixed by OPS students studying auto mechanics. But the district's high schools also should offer more career-education classes if they have room.
Reputations and enrollment have suffered at some OPS high schools. How do you go about restoring those that are lacking and begin balancing enrollment at OPS high schools?
Scanlan: Show parents and students OPS high schools (when children are) as young as elementary school. Waiting until middle school to sell the high schools can be too late because opinions might have already been formed. Let the teachers and principals sell the school to the students and families, and let families see that the negative reputations are unwarranted. Alumni associations also could help spread the word.
Kratky: OPS needs to somehow prop up some of its smaller schools without limiting or hurting its more popular schools. Transportation changes could be considered to help even out the unbalanced enrollments. She's also worried that students who are turned away from the district's more crowded high schools leave OPS altogether.
When test scores at a school are far below the district average, is it appropriate to replace the principal or other staff?
Scanlan: District administrators should first diagnose the problem and then hold the principals and teachers accountable for fixing the problem and improving the school.
Kratky: It's appropriate to examine as an option. All educators should be about raising the standards, she said. “I think we can encourage some things but we are not the ones making those decisions.”
Should teachers be paid extra — bonuses — when students score well on standardized tests?
Scanlan: No. Paying teachers more because of test scores alone would be unfair. Standardized tests don't show the effectiveness of a teacher.
“I'm not a big believer in standardized tests,” he said. “I don't think they show the whole picture.”
Teachers should be evaluated with input from their peers, parents and administrators.
“We all learn differently, yet we're always talking about standardizing things.”
Kratky: No. Doing so would create competition between the same grade-level teachers, which could lead to cheating. She wants teachers working together to improve students' scores, not competing and possibly fighting. Grade-level teachers as a group could get paid more if they work together and help their students do well on standardized tests. That would encourage teachers to share their expertise with each other rather than keep it to themselves.
The No Child Left Behind Act has focused attention and resources on the lowest-achieving students. How would you ensure that other students aren't overlooked?
Scanlan: OPS should find out what kids are interested in and help them pursue what they enjoy. For example, if a student is interested in auto mechanics, the district shouldn't worry about its college-going rate, it should help that student pursue auto mechanics.
Kratky: The district needs to hire the best and brightest teachers to make sure all students are doing as well as they can. OPS also should look at hiring teachers earlier than it currently does.
Should the district set a minimum grade-point average for students to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities?
Scanlan: Yes, and the minimum requirements should not allow a student to participate if he or she has a D or an F in any class as well.
Kratky: Yes, and not lower than a 2.0 grade-point average. OPS should be careful to not exclude some kids who go to school specifically to be in those extracurricular programs.