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Education
Ralston voters approve $83.75M school bond issue
  • Updated

Voters in the Ralston Public Schools approved a $83.75 million bond issue Tuesday night, the district’s first bond issue in 20 years and one that officials say will serve students well into the future.

Unofficial results from the Douglas County Election Commission show it passing with nearly 64% of the vote.

The final tally from the mail-in election is likely to come next week.

The bond issue will pay for renovations and improvements at all eight schools in the district.

“Really we just couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome,” said school board President Mary Roarty. “We greatly appreciate the support of all the Ralston community, looking forward to the future Ralston projects. It’s going to be a really exciting time for us.”

Superintendent Mark Adler said he’s “super grateful.”

“Our community has spoken loudly in support of our kids,” Adler said.

“Our kids deserve this, and I hope this helps us level the playing field of opportunity for the kids that we have going to our schools.”

He said the projects will impact “every single kid and every single staff member.”

Adler said the “kingpin” project on the list will be the rebuild of Mockingbird Elementary School.“Once we get that accomplished, it allows us to have that transition site for our other elementaries, and so we’ve already put a couple of things in motion to get a little bit of a head start.”

He said he hopes to get some construction underway this year.

Under the district’s plan dubbed Future Ready Ralston, Mockingbird will be demolished and rebuilt, other schools will be upgraded to modern security systems and floor plans, and the high school will get new competition baseball and softball fields.

The last time district officials put a bond issue in front of voters was in 2001. At that time, voters approved a $26.5 million bond issue to renovate Ralston High School.

The bond issue will impact property owners. The owner of a home valued at $150,000 will pay an extra $97.20 a year in property taxes.

The high school improvements are estimated at $24.3 million.

The school also will get concrete parking lots and drives, an upgrade from asphalt, a spokesman said. Inside the school, space will be renovated for career education programs.

Ralston Middle School and all the elementary schools would get vestibule-style secure entrances.

Once Mockingbird students occupy their new building, beside the old one, the old building would be used temporarily by children from Meadows, Blumfield and Wildewood Elementary Schools while their schools undergo renovation of spaces built with open-classroom designs.

Those renovations would likely be staggered over several years. Afterward, the old Mockingbird would be demolished.



Local
Trio of new Omaha park leaders eager to improve accessibility, equity
  • Updated

Sunny, warm weather brought people from across Omaha to Elmwood Park on a recent fall afternoon. A couple sat on a blanket in the grass to paint on canvases, children laughed as they climbed on playground equipment and dozens of people walked among the trees that were just beginning to show a sprinkle of fall color.

Tiffany Regan, Matthew Kalcevich and Debra Parsow sat at a picnic table and took it all in.

From left, Omaha Parks Foundation President Deb Parsow, City of Omaha Parks and Recreation Director Matthew Kalcevich and Omaha Parks Foundation Executive Director Tiffany Regan.

“This is a fun example of a range of things happening,” Kalcevich said. “You drive up the road a bit and you’ve got golf, you have folks playing softball over lunch, kids on the playground, people walking and running on the trail.”

The trio has years of experience in parks and recreation, and in the past year, all three began new roles serving the public through Omaha’s parks. They bring unique plans and desires to their respective positions.

Kalcevich was appointed director of the City of Omaha Parks, Recreation and Public Property Department about 10 months ago. Before being hired by Mayor Jean Stothert in December, Kalcevich worked as the recreation manager for the City of Des Moines. He has more than 10 years of experience managing recreation centers, public pools and public facilities.

In April, Regan was named executive director of the Omaha Parks Foundation.

Parsow has served as the foundation’s president since January.

Created in 2010, the foundation is a nonprofit governed by a board of directors. It operates independently of the city and, among other priorities, aims to inspire enthusiasm among Omaha residents and support improvements to the park system.

Parsow was a founding member of the Omaha Parks Foundation’s board.

LILY SMITH/THE WORLD-HERALD 

President of the Omaha Parks Foundation Deb Parsow enjoys seeing residents from across the city enjoying Omaha's parks, including Elmwood Park. Parsow was a founding member of the Foundation’s board when it began in 2010.

The playground equipment the children were playing on was made possible by a donation from Parsow to the foundation in honor of her late husband, Steven Parsow, in 2016.

“You have lots of different people from all over the city who might not live anywhere near (Elmwood), but they’re taking advantage of the park, like this little United Nations coming together,” Parsow said.

Parsow, Regan and Kalcevich discussed current projects and pondered the future of Omaha’s parks.

LILY SMITH/THE WORLD-HERALD 

Executive Director of the Omaha Parks Foundation Tiffany Regan says parks should be accessible by all Omahans. 

To Regan, who has been involved with the foundation for about a decade, that future is one of increased accessibility.

The former special education teacher recalled the limitations of taking students who relied on wheelchairs to local parks.

“Parks are for every body, every ability, every background,” Regan said. “It’s great when you’re in a position like I am now to see the benefit of parks like Benson. It’s a great feeling.”

Benson Park’s AllPlay Playground opened in 2015 as a barrier-free playground with ramps, smooth surfaces and special features to accommodate kids of all abilities.

At Elmwood Park, Parsow has a project in mind for children of all ages, including those who may have aged out of the playground.

LILY SMITH PHOTOS, THE WORLD-HERALD 

A new trio with years of experience in parks and recreation has begun serving the public through Omaha’s parks including Elmwood, above.

Plans are in the works for a reading pad next to the Steven Parsow Playground at Elmwood. Parsow pictures the space as a little library with a sun shade and an assortment of chairs and benches where kids can sit and read.

The Omaha Public Library is on board for weekend readings, and the University of Nebraska at Omaha, the campuses of which Elmwood sits between, may put on plays at the reading pad, Parsow said.

LILY SMITH/THE WORLD-HERALD 

Matthew Kalcevich, City of Omaha director of Parks, Recreation and Public Property, says he hopes to improve upon existing park resources to ensure they last for decades to come.

Kalcevich, who replaced longtime director Brook Bench as the head of the parks department, said he is looking less to new additions and more to the maintenance of existing infrastructure.

The Parks and Recreation Department manages more than 250 city parks, which include golf courses, swimming pools and community centers. Its total appropriations for 2021 amounted to a little more than $32.3 million.

Stothert’s proposed budget for 2022 bumps the total appropriations up to $35.6 million, an increase that reflects increased revenue from a series of bond sales authorized by voters in 2018. The bond revenue is intended to be used “for the construction and rehabilitation of recreational and cultural facilities and the development and redevelopment of parks,” according to the city’s budget.

“From what I’ve observed in my time so far, we’ve got to play a lot of catch-up as far as resetting the great infrastructure we already have to ensure that it’s here for another 40, 50 years and it can be around for future generations,” Kalcevich said.

He also hopes to address what he refers to as “park deserts,” or areas in the community that don’t have a park or where park infrastructure is outdated.

He points to a study conducted by The Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit that evaluates park systems in the 100 most populous U.S. cities to help identify areas of need.

The trust’s 2021 analysis found that 82% of Omaha residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park. The national average is listed as 55%.

The analysis also found that residents in low-income neighborhoods have access to 14% less park space per person than the city median, and 49% less than those in high-income neighborhoods.

“We want to support the growth of neighborhoods,” Kalcevich said. “(Parks) are a critical and important aspect to quality of life for any community.”

The public also has options, Regan said, to get involved in parks projects big and small.

“The (foundation’s) goal is to work with the businesses, communities and individuals to get some other projects done that might not be able to be happening had it not had another push along,” Regan said.

Those projects can range from planting a tree or dedicating a bench in memory of a loved one to multimillion-dollar projects such as the North Omaha Trail. A privately funded project with city collaboration, the trail is planned to run from the area of 24th and Lake Streets to downtown.

“Parks touch everybody, they touch so many different things, from economic value in a city, physical activity, a place to go and hang out,” Regan said. “Parks make a city great.”



News
AP
Americans quit their jobs at a record pace in August

WASHINGTON — One reason America’s employers are having trouble filling jobs was starkly illustrated in a report Tuesday: Americans are quitting in droves.

The Labor Department said that quits jumped to 4.3 million in August, the highest on records dating to December 2000, and up from 4 million in July. That’s equivalent to nearly 3% of the workforce.

Hiring also slowed in August, the report showed, and the number of jobs available fell to 10.4 million, from a record high of 11.1 million the previous month.

The data help fill in a puzzle that is looming over the job market: Hiring slowed sharply in August and September, even as the number of posted jobs was near record levels. In the past year, open jobs have increased 62%. Yet overall hiring, as measured by Tuesday’s report, has actually declined slightly during that time.

The jump in quits strongly suggests that fear of the delta variant of COVID-19 is partly responsible for the shortfall in workers. In addition to driving quits, fear of the disease probably caused plenty of those out of work to not look for, or take, jobs. Problems finding reliable child care in the COVID era may be a factor as well.

As COVID-19 cases surged in August, quits rose from the previous month in restaurants and hotels as well as other public-facing jobs, such as retail and education. Nearly 900,000 people left jobs at restaurants, bars and hotels in August, up 21% from July. Quits by retail workers rose 6%.

Yet in manufacturing, construction, transportation and warehousing, quits barely increased. In professional and business services, which includes fields such as law, engineering and architecture, where most employees can work from home, quitting was largely flat.

Other factors also likely contributed to the jump in quits. With many employers desperate for workers and wages rising at a healthy pace, workers have a much greater ability to demand higher pay, or go elsewhere to find it.

For every unemployed American in August, there were 1.2 openings.

The data from August is probably too early to reflect the impact of vaccine mandates. President Joe Biden’s mandate was not announced until Sept. 9. United Airlines announced its mandate in early August, but it was one of the first companies to do so. And layoffs were unchanged in August, the report found.

The government said Friday that job gains were weak for a second straight month in September, with only 194,000 jobs added, though the unemployment rate fell to 4.8% from 5.2%. Friday’s hiring figure is a net total, after quits, retirements and layoffs are taken into account.

Tuesday’s report includes raw figures, and showed that total hiring in August fell sharply, to 6.3 million from 6.8 million in July.

The data is “highlighting the immense problems businesses are dealing with,” Jennifer Lee, an economist at BMO Capital Markets, said in an email. “Not enough people. Not enough equipment and/or parts. Meantime, customers are waiting for their orders, or waiting to place their orders. What a strange world this is.”

Quits also rose the most in the South and Midwest, the government said, the two regions with the worst COVID outbreaks in August.

When workers quit, it is typically seen as a good sign for the job market, because people usually leave jobs when they already have other positions or are confident they can find one. The large increase in August probably does reflect some of that confidence among workers.

But the fact that the increase in quits was heavily concentrated in sectors that involve close contact with the public is a sign that fear of COVID also played a large role. Many people may have quit even without other jobs to take.

This report includes material from Bloomberg News.


Crime-and-courts
Blair man told lots of people he killed girlfriend, Omaha detective testifies
  • Updated

Minutes after Brandon J. Boone reportedly killed his girlfriend, an Omaha police detective testified Tuesday, he couldn’t keep his mouth shut about it.

Boone told a friend who watched him fire the shots, police said, that he thought he might have killed Jamie Nau, 29.

OMAHA POLICE DEPARTMENT 

Boone

As he washed his hands at an apartment, he told a woman to forget him if anyone came looking for him.

He told a woman whose car he was driving as he fired the shots that he just “caught a body,” meaning he had killed someone.

And he told another girlfriend, who was in the Douglas County Jail at the time, to watch the TV news so she could piece together what he did.

Boone, 28, of Blair, will stand trial on first-degree murder and firearm charges, plus a charge of failure to stop and render aid in connection with a collision that occurred an hour after the shooting.

Nau was shot once in the head just before 7 p.m. Aug. 22 outside an apartment complex near 83rd and Miami Streets.

Two men who were with her — one who had just met her that day and the other who said she was a close friend — said they had been driving around that day searching for car parts to fix a vehicle that was parked near the apartments.

Nau had seemed scared throughout the day, telling the men, “We gotta get out of here” and “What are we doing here,” Omaha Police Officer Michael Young testified.

At one point, Nau borrowed a woman’s phone to text Boone: “Where are you, B.” She never received a response, Young said.

Nau told one of the men the night before that Boone had “left her on a dirt road and taken everything from her,” Young testified.

Both Boone and Nau used methamphetamine, Young said, the side effects of which can cause paranoia and anxiety.

The two men and Nau returned to the apartment that Sunday evening. As the pickup truck they were in slowed and turned into the driveway, Nau, in the front passenger seat, jumped out of the truck. The men heard a scream and two shots.

A black Acura sped away, according to multiple home video surveillance recordings.

Police later interviewed a friend of Boone’s who was in the hospital after a collision near 56th Street and Sorensen Parkway that involved the black Acura.

The friend told police that he and Boone had been driving in the area of 83rd and Miami to look for tools to sell. They saw the truck and Nau scowling at them. Then the friend said he saw Boone fire two shots, the second of which hit Nau.

Boone sped away, the friend said, and was panicking that he “might have killed (Nau),” Young testified.

After going to an apartment to do drugs, the officer said, the two men came upon the owner of the Acura, who had let Boone borrow the car. She told police that Boone told her to get into the car, but she refused to unless she could drive.

Then Boone told her he did something bad in the car and “caught a body,” meaning he just killed someone, Young said. After an argument, Boone sped off. The car collided with a Dodge Charger about 8:10 p.m. when Boone ran a red light at Sorensen Parkway, Young said. Boone’s friend suffered a broken neck in the crash. Boone ran off.

Just 10 minutes later, another girlfriend called him from the Douglas County Jail, upset that he had not answered when she called earlier.

Boone told her that he “(expletive) up” and will never see anyone again. He instructed her to watch the news to figure out what he had done, Young said.

That call, because it was made from the jail, was recorded.


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