The first draft of Omaha Public Schools' strategic plan has been delivered. Now the real work starts.
Over the next several months, board members and administrators will hammer out tangible ideas to change and improve the school district. And for the first time in a year, board members will start meeting in smaller committees — which OPS now calls subcommittees — to dive deeply into those issues.
The board recently approved a new policy and assignments creating six standing subcommittees — four aligned with the main topics of OPS's needs analysis and strategic plan and two required by law. The board also currently has three ad-hoc subcommittees.
Because the subcommittees are smaller, they do not fall under Nebraska's open meetings law, but board members say they intend to keep most meetings open.
In addition to two subcommittees required by law — the subcommittees on claims and Americanism — the four related to the strategic plan are budget and finance; facilities and technology; human resources/curriculum instruction and assessment; and students, family and community engagement.
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“I'm personally excited about the committees,” board member Katie Underwood said. “It sounds pretty nerdy, but in boards and volunteer positions, it seems like at the committee level that's where a lot of work gets done. There's more focus in committees.”
There are also three ad-hoc subcommittees on scheduling, the student assignment plan and legislative issues.
Board members said the new subcommittees will allow them to drill into subjects with more detail, including issues like busing, teacher evaluations and school-choice policies.
“Instead of having nine people look at teacher evaluations, we can have three look at it with staff and come back to the board with recommendations,” board President Justin Wayne said. “I just think that's more efficient.”
And members can demonstrate leadership on subcommittees that play to their strengths or interests, board member Yolanda Williams said.
“You're assigned to something you have interest in,” she said. “I'm just not a finance girl. That's not my passion. If I was on that, I'd do the work because it was necessary, but I wouldn't have as much passion as I do about the student assignment plan or family and community engagement.”
The subcommittees haven't started meeting yet and members haven't decided how often or what time of day the meetings will be held.
The current OPS board is largely new. All but two of its nine members, Wayne and Fey, have been on the board less than a year, the result of new elections mandated by the Nebraska Legislature.
Due in part to the new demographics of the board — the average age now hovers around 30, down from 58, and all members have full-time jobs — the board has not been meeting in committees this school year, only as a full board.
In the past, OPS committees met twice a month, usually at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. This often led to criticism that the board was doing its heavy lifting at sparsely attended committee meetings instead of having full discussions at regular meetings that tend to draw more members of the public.
While past board policies made no mention of open meetings, those committee meetings were typically open to the public partly because a majority of the then-12-member board often participated in the meetings.
The new subcommittees are composed of two to four board members. Because that does not constitute a quorum of the full board, the meetings won't fall under the Open Meetings Act. The committees won't have to publish an agenda, post meeting notices or take minutes.
At meetings last month, Fey pressed for the subcommittee meetings to remain open, and said she'd prefer that detail be included in the written policy.
“The difficulty of holding committee meetings or subcommittee meetings in public is that you have to provide public notice in a certain amount of time, you have to publish an agenda,” Fey said. “It makes you less nimble. ... But I'd argue those protections are there for a reason and they are there for the public to be fully informed.”
Wayne said the intent is to keep the meetings open even if that isn't expressly spelled out in the revised policy.
Wayne said the committees will make recommendations only to the full board and won't vote on anything. The committees will prepare written recaps of their meetings that will be available to the full board and the public, according to board secretary Matt Ray.
Board member Lacey Merica agreed that the board should continue the open-door policy of the past.
“As a board, we've set a precedent that we want to have more open communications, we want to be more transparent,” she said. “To do that, the work we do in the committees has to be open and transparent as well.”
Several board members said certain subcommittees should stay closed, including those formed to hear student discipline or personnel matters. The ad-hoc legislative subcommittee, which meets before the start of a legislative session to discuss which state bills the board will endorse or oppose, will probably meet in private.
The Elkhorn and Lincoln school boards operate under a similar intent; their committee meetings generally are open to the public even when a quorum isn't present. The Millard school board generally meets only in full session.
OPS standing subcommittee assignments
Students, Family and Community Engagement: Reviews issues and strategies related to OPS's community relationships
» Marque Snow, Yolanda Williams
Human Resources/Curriculum Instruction and Assessment: Reviews issues related to staffing, such as hiring and personnel policy, and areas related to classroom instruction, curriculum development and increasing student achievement
» Marian Fey, Anthony Vargas
Facilities and Technology: Reviews OPS's technology and building needs, including reports such as the facility study
» Marian Fey, Katie Underwood
Budget and Finance: Reviews OPS's yearly budget presentation and tracks district finances
» Lou Ann Goding, Lacey Merica, Katie Underwood, Anthony Vargas
Claims: Required by law, reviews bills and expenses related to OPS and Educational Service Unit No. 19
» Lou Ann Goding, Matt Scanlan, Marque Snow
Americanism: Required by law, reviews U.S. history and civics textbooks and curriculum
» Marque Snow, Anthony Vargas, Justin Wayne
Scheduling: Reviews how the school day is structured
» Lou Ann Goding, Marian Fey, Yolanda Williams
Student assignment plan: Reviews the district's busing and attendance area policies
» Lou Ann Goding, Marque Snow, Katie Underwood, Yolanda Williams
Legislative: Reviews OPS's positions on legislative bills
» Lou Ann Goding, Marian Fey, Lacey Merica