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Proposed policy would give OPS superintendent additional powers during emergencies
special report

Proposed policy would give OPS superintendent additional powers during emergencies


The Omaha Public Schools board will once again consider giving Superintendent Cheryl Logan more authority during emergencies.

Last month the school board voted 5-3 to table a COVID-19 emergency resolution that would have given Logan additional authority. Four school board members said they were hesitant to give away their power as elected officials.

Now a similar proposal is on the school board’s agenda for Wednesday night. Except this time it’s in the form of a policy and would apply to all emergencies.

The proposed policy says that when a state of emergency is declared, whether it be for a fire, tornado or something else, the superintendent is given additional authority to deal with the emergency.

Among other things, the superintendent would be able to close or limit access to schools, implement emergency preparedness and response action plans or distance learning plans, and temporarily modify collective bargaining agreements. The superintendent would have to consult the board president, vice president and maintain close contact with the school board.

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School board President Marque Snow said Tuesday he’s in favor of the policy. He said board members’ fiduciary responsibilities would remain intact and the policy would put into writing some of the things Logan has been doing during the pandemic.

Snow pointed to the additional food pickup sites OPS has been offering since school buildings closed. He said the superintendent needs as much flexibility as possible to keep serving families without going to the board first.

On Tuesday, The World-Herald reached out to the four board members who expressed concerns about the previous resolution during the April meeting.

Board member Ben Perlman said there is no indication the proposed policy is needed.

“Oversight is one of the most important functions of a public school board and can’t be abdicated,” Perlman said. “It has nothing at all to do with a lack of trust or confidence in a superintendent. It has to do with the work we were elected to do.”

Perlman cited the lengthy discussion about the iPad purchase during a recent specially called board meeting as an example of why the board and administration should work as a team during the coronavirus crisis.

Board member Lou Ann Goding said that by approving the policy the school board would be abdicating its responsibility from the decision-making process.

“This would be a disservice to the constituents who elected each of us,” Goding said. “As an elected official, I have a problem with this approach.”

Board member Tracy Casady said she was seeking clarification on the policy and declined to comment further. Board member Amanda Ryan did not respond to a phone message.

Normally policy changes have two readings. But the board has the option to waive the second reading, meaning the policy could be approved Wednesday night.

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Emily covers K-12 education, including Omaha Public Schools. Previously, Emily covered local government and the Nebraska Legislature for The World-Herald. Follow her on Twitter @emily_nitcher. Phone: 402-444-1192.

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