Wake up, rural Nebraska! In the name of saving money, our small schools are quickly becoming the thing of the past by our Legislature -- and your school is probably next.
According to the Center for Rural Affairs, which monitors the Nebraska Legislature concerning rural issues, LB129, an Education Committee Priority Bill held over to the 2006 session, "would punish small rural schools by reducing state aid for those with less than 390 students, making consolidation potentially the only economically viable option for some districts ... By increments, the Legislature appears to be creating a situation where small rural districts may have no economic choice but to consolidate and get larger."
Don't think it can really happen here? Our Legislature recently passed LB126, which mandated the closure of individual school boards of Class 1 schools and forced the school districts to merge with the larger K-12 school in their district. Note the word forced, which means without a vote of the local patrons. Gov. Heineman saw what LB126 would mean: among other concerns, a "green light" to force more consolidation, next, of other small school districts -- and he originally vetoed the bill, which the Legislature promptly overrode. This same bunch of senators are now gearing up to push LB129 through, buoyed the passage of 126.
I don't know about you, but the thought of huge "mega" high schools -- the "one school board, one district" mentality -- doesn't sit too well with me.
Of course, administrators would love it -- fewer piddling school boards, more consolidated power -- but we will pay a dear price for it. Independent school boards will cease to exist across the state and accountability within the education system will deteriorate -- welcome to school boards that will oversee hundreds, and in some case thousands, of students. It sounds outlandish but in the name of efficiency, but that's really what LB129 will accomplish: decision making authority will rest upon a few, with more force behind that power. Witness how the Omaha Public School system is already exerting their muscle over the school systems of Elkhorn, Ralston, and Millard.
I don't want to come off like Chicken Little with the "the sky is falling" approach, but this thing is real and coming down the pike, whether we like it or not. We can either sit by and shrug our shoulders and bemoan the sad state of affairs, or we can do something to let the Legislature know that we are still a democracy and would like the right to vote on issues which affect us.
Two citizen initiative petition drives are organizing in Nebraska in response to LB 126 and 129. These two petitions ask for : 1. The suspension of LB126 until it has been voted upon by voters in Nebraska, and 2. An amendment to the Constitution of the State of Nebraska to let the people of a school district vote before a school district can be dissolved or merged into another school district.
This has worked before. In 1985, Bob Kerrey signed Legislative Bill 662, and a successful referendum drive was immediately launched to repeal it.
Thousands of Nebraskans signed petitions, and when placed on the ballot, a 2-1 majority repealed it.
Petitioners are out and about in our area, and petitions will also will available to sign at the Red Willow County Fair. I urge anyone who is concerned about losing control of their school to contact Rich Klein at (308) 345-3188 or myself at (308) 345-7360. We still need more people to circulate petitions across Nebraska until Aug. 30. Let the Legislature know that we demand the right to determine what goes on with our schools. The best governmental decisions are those that are made locally, by the people directly affected. Don't let the Legislature take that process away from you!