Ruling only complicates Class I issue

Saturday, March 4, 2006

The Class I saga continues.

Friday, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that a judge was wrong to suspend a state law that calls for the smallest schools to merge with larger districts.

The ruling overturns a restraining order from a Lancaster County judge the prevented the implementation of LB126, which was passed over Gov. Dave Heineman's veto, requiring all elementary-only, or Class I schools to merge with larger, K-12 districts by June 15.

Opponents mounted a successful petition drive to put the question of repealing the law on the November ballot, but later the state school reorganization committee voted unanimously on Dec. 1 to issue orders dissolving all 200 Class I schools effective June 15.

Former Attorney General Don Stenberg, who is helping represent the small schools, argued in briefs to the court that the voters would be the ones to make "this important public policy decision."

But the court ruled that the schools collected only 7.7 percent of the registered voters in Nebraska, less than the 10 percent required to suspend an act of the Legislature.

Clearly, the tide is running against Class I schools.

While there were 513 such districts in 1990, that had dropped to just 207 by the start of this year and was set to decrease to 200 by the start of this fall's school term.

Proponents of LB126 point to the high per-pupil cost of the small elementary-only districts.

But there is a significant cost, both financially and socially, to implement this law," said George Lauby of North Platte, regional director of Nebraskans for Local Schools.

"It does not have widespread support from the people. Local schools are good schools. They help education meet local needs and situations. Most people realize that local districts are flexible, have served Nebraska well for decades and are already closing as local situations require," Lauby said.

Neither does LB126 take into account the emotional and financial costs to families whose children must spend hours going to and from school each day.

Suspending the ongoing mergers until the voters have a chance to speak only made sense. Friday's ruling will only add to the confusion.

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