The Omaha Public Schools are hosting public budget forums this week to solicit comments and ideas about how to operate with $22 million less next year.
In late January, the Douglas and Sarpy County Learning Communities announced they would close the Underwood Focus School – the first joint-district facility which is just in its third year. The OPS, Westside, and Elkhorn school districts shared a $1 million+ budget to offer children (who attended by lottery system) extended school days, an extended school year, enrichment classes, and more. Principal Bret Anderson said “teachers just blossomed” in the experiment, but Elkhorn pulled out of the relationship because their $300,000 portion of the operating budget was too hard to bear. Anderson said that the school cannot get learning community dollars and the state does not recognize a focus school split between districts.
Two weeks ago the Archdiocese of Omaha announced that due to financial hardship, it would close Cristo Rey Catholic High School, an innovative concept school designed to provide quality and affordable private education to students regardless of their financial situations. The school provided work-study experiences for the students – a model hit hard by the economic downturn. Expenses proved to hard to meet.
I don’t know if the Archdiocese and the joint districts will try to resurrect their concept schools. I’m sure they would like to, and I believe there are people whose lives were touched by the experiments who will seek to see them active again.
Of course the Omaha Public Schools will plow forward with their mission/directive to serve the students of our city, but the budget cuts will push them – as they do for us all – to be even more resourceful and perhaps even leave past constructs behind.
No question these are growing pains. But out of the pain will come formulas to crack the code on what 21st Century education needs to be. A critical component must be community involvement. The discussion is ripe for parents, grandparents, teachers, administrators, and business leaders in our community.
I encourage you to attend an OPS budget meeting. Attend an open-to-the-public Learning Community meeting. Ask parents, teachers, and administrators of the Underwood Focus School and Cristo Rey School what they liked best, what worked well, what they intend to do now. Help if you can.
Join us Sunday, February 27th at 3 PM at Brownell-Talbot School for a FREE showing of Waiting for Superman, the documentary on the state of education in our nation today.
We call all of this “the most important conversation of our time.” Please join us.