The Learning Community proposal that would have paid two Omaha consultants $1,000 a day didn't even get a vote at Thursday's council meeting.
Lorraine Chang, chairwoman of the Learning Community Council, pulled the topic from the agenda after hearing concerns from citizens, teachers and other council members throughout the day.
A state senator also questioned the council's planned actions.
Chang said she wanted to allow more time to hear from the public and council members before voting on hiring former Omaha Public Schools interim Superintendent Virginia Moon and an Omaha doctor to help superintendents develop an early childhood education plan for the Learning Community.
Members of the public at the meeting Thursday agreed with Chang's move. Eight people spoke out against the idea, all taking issue with the use of consultants and their cost, not early childhood education.
Some council members also questioned the proposal's cost and the process taken to bring it to the council.
The topic will now go back to the 11 Omaha-area superintendents, who will formally decide what's next, Chang said.
The contract would have paid Moon and Omaha pediatrician Laura Jana up to $72,000 each for 72 days of work. The two would work with local superintendents to create the plan.
Moon said after the meeting she's still interested in helping if she's needed.
Learning Community CEO Ted Stilwill has said the pay was reasonable considering the task and the experience of Moon and Jana.
The expansion plan will lay out how to spend between $2 million and $3 million a year to serve children in the Omaha area with high concentrations of poverty.
Stilwill has called Moon the “ideal facilitator” because of her experience working with metro districts, some of which he said still aren't entirely cooperative under the 4½-year-old education entity.
Jana's pay was a bargain, he had said, considering her background. She is an author and owner of the Primrose School of Legacy child care center in Omaha. She also served as a consultant to noted pediatrician Benjamin Spock and co-founded The Dr. Spock Company, one of the first online health sites.
But citizens and council members weren't as convinced.
Bill Sole, a former OPS custodial worker, questioned why district officials couldn't handle forming the plan.
“And the idea that you could pay a person $1,000 a day is so far out of my realm of understanding,” he said, “I'm not sure I could get my arms around it.”
Others, including Mike Kennedy, a Millard school board member, also wondered why current administrators couldn't handle this task.
Stilwill later said district administrators have a lot of educational experience, but they don't have much experience working with families of 1- or 2-year-olds. District administrators also don't have the resources to handle the additional workload, he said.
State Sen. Jim Smith, who sponsored the law that gave the Learning Community the authority to expand its early childhood efforts, questioned the council's procedures.
Nebraska lawmakers last session gave the council explicit authority to fund early childhood education programs for low-income children.
Lawmakers further directed the superintendents of the 11 member districts to submit a plan for administering such programs.
Smith said the law goes into effect Sept. 6.
The committee hasn't yet submitted a plan. “I do believe there's a process to follow to be able to fund these programs,” Smith said.
He took no issue with the cost or the proposed hiring of Moon and Jana.
Kevin Riley, Gretna Public Schools superintendent and liaison for the superintendents committee, has said the superintendents talked informally about the plan and favored having Moon facilitate the project.
Riley said the project would require too much time of the superintendents to do the job right. They will be busy with the start of school, he said.
Mike Pate, Millard school board member who serves on the council, also said the cost worried him but not as much as the process.
Because the superintendents committee hadn't submitted a plan, he said, the Learning Community was moving too quickly and trying to undermine the law.
At Thursday's meeting, Stilwill agreed it might have made more sense to talk to the superintendents committee collectively rather than just a few of the district leaders.
Chang said they had no intention of speeding the proposal past the council.
She said the council will continue to get updates on the plan. “It's too important to not get it right.”