Two more Omaha Public Schools board members have filed for higher office, while another candidate has announced he’s seeking a spot on the school board.
Justin Wayne, who was re-elected to the OPS school board in 2014, is running for the Nebraska Legislature.
He has filed in District 13, which covers parts of north Omaha and northeast Douglas County. The district is currently represented by State Sen. Tanya Cook, who cannot run for re-election this year because of term limits.
Wayne, a lawyer who also owns a construction company, is a registered Democrat. The Legislature is officially nonpartisan.
He will face competition in a crowded race that includes former Libertarian candidate for governor Mark Elworth Jr., Creighton University professor Jill Brown and Jake Seeman, a trial preparation manager for Domina Law.
Wayne, 36, said he thinks he can be a bridge in an increasingly partisan political climate.
“When President Obama came here, he started talking about the Nebraska way, working across party lines and getting work done,” he said. “A lot of legislators have been calling, asking what my thoughts are on different things, education bills. I think I can be effective down there.”
He plans to campaign on education funding — he believes schools need more funding, especially for students growing up in poverty — economic development and juvenile justice reform. Most of Wayne’s legal work involves juveniles.
Fellow board member Marque Snow has filed for the Douglas County Board, challenging incumbent and fellow Democrat Chris Rodgers in District 3. Like Wayne, Snow was re-elected to the school board in 2014.
Snow did not return a call seeking comment.
A third OPS board member, Tony Vargas, is also campaigning for a seat in the Legislature. He filed for the District 7 seat that represents South Omaha and portions of downtown. The seat is currently held by State Sen. Nicole Fox.
If successful, the Wayne and Snow campaigns could spell even more turnover for the OPS school board. Five seats on the OPS board are up for grabs this year, and Vargas is among three incumbents, including Marian Fey in Subdistrict 3 and Katie Underwood in Subdistrict 7, not running for re-election.
School boards can be a launching pad for higher office. For instance, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert was a Millard school board member, and former State Sen. Brenda Council got her start in politics as a member on the OPS board.
U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer served on her local school board in Valentine, and State Sen. Kate Sullivan, who heads the Education Committee in the Legislature, once served on the Cedar Rapids school board.
“This is not about me leaving the OPS board,” Wayne said. “But I’ve been on there for six years now. I think it’ll be good for new ideas to come in and have a fresh look at things.”
Another candidate also filed this week for Fey’s seat on the OPS board.
Ben Perlman is a senior deputy county attorney in Sarpy County and is seeking the Subdistrict 3 seat, which covers Dundee, parts of midtown and north-central Omaha.
Perlman, 40, is a Central High graduate. He and his wife have three children: a toddler, a kindergartner at Dundee Elementary and a sophomore at Central High. Having kids in OPS schools and attending the district himself has given him a good feel for how the district works and where it needs improvement, he said.
Communication continues to be a stumbling block for OPS, he said.
“Parents are blindsided by almost every decision being made, from grading to busing to how long the school day is going to be,” he said.
Perlman says big issues face the district, including implementation of a new busing plan and another potential bond vote in 2017. He said he has the communication and compromise skills honed through his job as a prosecutor to steer OPS in the right direction.
He is a registered independent and faces competition from Democrat Alex Gates, who has also filed for the Subdistrict 3 seat. The filing deadline for non-incumbents is March 1.
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