2005: Class I Assimilation

 

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Class I Assimilation

If LB 1048 (2004) did anything it was to demonstrate to Nebraskans the seriousness of many members of the Education Committee to pursue the concept of mandatory reorganization. ;nbsp;The bill served to put all interested parties on notice that the issue was ripe for legislative action. ;nbsp;And, without question, the name most attached to this mission was Senator Ron Raikes. ;nbsp;In truth Senator Raikes had endured considerable criticism from Class I supporters beginning in 2003, but he was undaunted in his effort to affect organizational change in Nebraska's school structure.

On January 6, 2005, Senator Raikes would introduce a near carbon copy of the 2004 measure in the form of Legislative Bill 126, a now infamous number to the issue of reorganization just as "1059" is to school finance. ;nbsp;Joining Senator Raikes were eleven co-sponsors, including three other members of the Education Committee.1

Table 157. ;nbsp;Summary of LB 126 (2006), Class I Assimilation Bill,
as Introduced
  1. Assimilate all Class I districts into K-12 districts in time for the 2006-07 school year;

  2. Reclassify each Class VI (high school only) district as a Class II or Class III (K-12) school district;

  3. Prohibit K-12 school boards from closing an elementary attendance center or changing the grades offered beginning June 15, 2006 if:

    1. the fall membership for the prior school year included a total number of resident students that was at least 2.5 times the number of grades offered; and

    2. the attendance center is at least 10 miles from another elementary attendance center within the district or the attendance center is the only elementary attendance center located within the boundaries of an incorporated city or village;
  4. Prohibit K-12 school boards, beginning June 15, 2006 until July 1, 2010, from closing an elementary attendance center or changing the grades offered without the approval of at least 75% of the school board if:

    1. the fall membership for the prior school year included a total number of resident students that was at least 2 times the number of grades offered; or

    2. the attendance center is at least 10 miles from another elementary attendance center within the district; or

    3. the attendance center is the only elementary attendance center located within the boundaries of an incorporated city or village.

Source: ;nbsp;Legislative Bill 126, Change provisions relating to school district reorganization, sponsored by Sen. Ron Raikes, Nebraska Legislature, 99th Leg., 1st Sess., 2005, title first read 6 January 2005, §§ 1-3, 35, pp. 3-10, 44-46.

Document Archive
LB 126: Class I assimilation
 
Bill Summary Statement of Intent
Chronology Hearing Transcripts
Com. Statement Exec. Session Votes
Introduced Bill Slip Law
 
Fiscal Notes:;nbsp;;nbsp; Jan. 11, 2005
;nbsp; Feb. 7, 2005
;nbsp; May 24, 2005
 
Floor Transcripts:;nbsp;;nbsp; ;nbsp;
General File;nbsp;;nbsp; Feb. 10, 2005
;nbsp; Feb. 11, 2005
;nbsp; Feb. 14, 2005
;nbsp; Feb. 15, 2005
Select File;nbsp;;nbsp; May 19, 2005
;nbsp; May 20, 2005
Final Reading;nbsp;;nbsp; Jun. 1, 2005
Veto Override;nbsp;;nbsp; Jun. 3, 2005

Similar to the 1985 version, LB 126 attempted to provide Class I school boards an opportunity to control their own destiny to a certain extent, for a certain period of time. ;nbsp;If the Class I boards did not act on their own volition, it would be done for them. ;nbsp;The measure required the State Committee for the Reorganization of School Districts to issue orders merging the property of each Class I district into one or more high school districts by December 1, 2005. ;nbsp;The effective date for all mergers was set at June 15, 2006.2

One of the major differences between the 1985 and 2005 measures was the extent to which LB 126 attempted to protect existing elementary attendance centers from closure. ;nbsp;Without question, LB 126 had a more kinder and gentler approach to the matter than LB 662 in 1985, but the end result was essentially the same: ;nbsp;a move toward K-12 systems. ;nbsp;Indeed, LB 126 took the objective a step further than LB 662 in that it required the reclassification of all Class VI (high school only) districts to K-12 systems. ;nbsp;LB 662 would have allowed Class VI districts to remain high school only districts.

The reclassification of Class VI districts under LB 126 was not entirely welcome news for Class VI school patrons and officials, but it was not breaking new ground either. ;nbsp;LB 1048 (2004), the predecessor to LB 126, also included a provision to convert Class VI districts into K-12 systems.3 ;nbsp;Some Class VI districts opposed both LB 1048 and LB 126 based upon this provision. ;nbsp;Their concerns included the issue of mandatory transportation for certain students meeting the existing statutory requirements. ;nbsp;Nebraska law required a school board to either provide free transportation or pay an allowance for transportation expenses when "a student attends a secondary school in his or her own Class II or Class III school district and lives more than four miles from the public schoolhouse."4 ;nbsp;LB 126 proposed to eliminate an existing exception to this rule, which was applied when one or more Class I school districts merge with a Class VI school district to form a new Class II or III district after January 1, 1997.5 ;nbsp;The exception was created under LB 806 (and modified by LB 710) in 1997.6

LB 126 proposed to eliminate the exception effective July 15, 2006.7 ;nbsp;To compensate for this change, Senator Raikes provided a one-time exception to the spending limitation by an amount equal to the anticipated transportation expenditures necessary to meet the new transportation requirements. ;nbsp;The lid exception applied only to 2006-07 and applied only to those former Class VI districts (now K-12 districts) that qualified for the old the transportation exemption.8 ;nbsp;The fiscal impact of the transportation provision had some Class VI districts more than a little concerned. ;nbsp;It was initially estimated that the provision would require an additional $1.2 million in spending by former Class VI districts. ;nbsp;This amount could be exempted from the spending lid for one year, but, after 2006-07, it would be left to the former Class VI district to account for the additional expenditures. ;nbsp;"The increase in school spending will result in an initial increase in property taxes to finance the spending increase and an increase in (TEEOSA) state aid two years later," reported the Legislative Fiscal Office.9

Aside the potential financial impact on Class VI schools, there was also controversy surrounding the fiscal impact of the main component of the legislation, the assimilation of Class I districts. ;nbsp;The Legislative Fiscal Office initially reported on January 11, 2005 that:

It is difficult to calculate a fiscal impact of the bill because it is dependent upon mergers and decisions made at the local level. ;nbsp;It is also dependent upon the restrictions on closure of elementary attendance sites that are enumerated in the bill. ;nbsp;It is assumed that very few attendance sites will close due to these restrictions. ;nbsp;It is assumed that at the most there will be savings of $2 million - $3 million at the local level due to the closure of attendance sites with student membership less than the thresholds established in the bill.10

However, on February 7, 2005, three days before first-round debate, the Fiscal Office released a new report that seemed to paint a more positive outlook for potential savings to the State. ;nbsp;Based upon newly furnished data from the Department of Education, the Fiscal Office estimated that the savings could be as much as $12.7 million based upon potential closure of elementary attendance centers.11

In truth, it is not unusual for the Fiscal Office to release revised fiscal notes based upon new information or data previously unavailable, especially when the legislation at issue involves complicated provisions with ample "what-if" scenarios. ;nbsp;But the revised report still served as political fodder for opponents of the legislation. ;nbsp;Senator Adrian Smith of Gering was particularly vocal about the turn of events. ;nbsp;"Now, it was interesting that all of a sudden, yesterday I think it was, a fiscal note came out that was drastically different, drastically different," Smith said on the first day of General File debate, "And I don't want to say that there's politics behind it, but I certainly wouldn't be surprised if there were."12 ;nbsp;Ironically, if there was any political plot, as alleged, the scheming occurred at an institution-wide basis since the Legislative Fiscal Office was created by and operates on behalf of the Legislature. ;nbsp;In fact, the real politics concerning LB 126 occurred, as one would expect, among members of the Legislature, not among or by the diligent state employees comprising the Legislative Fiscal Office.13

The timing of the revised fiscal report may have looked suspicious to some, but to best serve the Legislature is to get it right rather than allow misleading or incomplete data to govern the debate of an important bill. ;nbsp;To biased and unbiased observers alike, it should have been clearly evident that to forecast savings to the State as a result of passing LB 126 was next to impossible. ;nbsp;There were too many possible scenarios and no one could predict how each affected community would choose to address the law if LB 126 passed. ;nbsp;To base one's support for LB 126 solely upon the expectation of significant savings to the State would have been in error given the analysis of the Fiscal Office. ;nbsp;And even if preliminary savings to the State were realized, it would be tempered by potential increases in expenditures born by K-12 districts to comply with the provisions of the bill. ;nbsp;Not the least of these local spending increases would result from paying higher salaries to instructional staff absorbed through the assimilation process. ;nbsp;And any necessary increases in spending by schools would be reflected in the state aid formula through growth in calculated needs.

"The time has come for us to move to a K-12 organization"

Perhaps a more sellable argument concerning LB 126, and its predecessor LB 1048, was a move toward K-12 organization in order to bring about a certain level of continuity among school districts, at least more continuity than existed previously. ;nbsp;This seemed to be the chosen argument taken by Senator Raikes during his opening remarks on LB 126 at its public hearing on January 18, 2005. ;nbsp;There were not quite as many in attendance at the hearing for LB 126 as there were for LB 662 in 1985. ;nbsp;The similarity in 2005 was that both the hearing room and a separate "overflow" room at the State Capitol were filled to capacity. ;nbsp;Also similar was the geographic diversity of those in attendance.

"The time has come for us to move to a K-12 organization of school districts in Nebraska," Senator Raikes said in his opening comments on LB 126.14 ;nbsp;He offered several reasons. ;nbsp;"First, we can no longer afford a structure that requires administration and budgeting of an extra 230 separate local government units," he said in reference to the number of Class I school districts.15 ;nbsp;He noted that these districts serve a very small percentage of all students in Nebraska and the cost per student is on average higher than found in K-12 schools. ;nbsp;In fact, all Class I schools combined served less than 3% of the total number of students attending public schools in Nebraska, as illustrated in Table 158.

Table 158. ;nbsp;Class I District Statistics

;nbsp; Number Percent of
Statewide Total
;nbsp; ;nbsp; ;nbsp;
Class I Districts ;nbsp; ;nbsp;
;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;Number of Operating Districts 231 47.34%
;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;Total Membership 7,924 2.84%
;nbsp; ;nbsp; ;nbsp;
Class Is with Less Than 50 Students ;nbsp; ;nbsp;
;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;Number of Operating Districts 204 41.80%
;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;Total Membership 3,288 1.18%
;nbsp; ;nbsp; ;nbsp;
K-12 Districts ;nbsp; ;nbsp;
;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;Number of Operating Districts 257 52.66%
;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;Total Membership 270,977 97.16%
;nbsp; ;nbsp; ;nbsp;
Statewide Totals ;nbsp; ;nbsp;
;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;Number of Operating Districts 488 100.00%
;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;Total Membership 278,901 100.00%
;nbsp; ;nbsp; ;nbsp;
Number of Counties with Class Is 56 60.22%
;nbsp; ;nbsp; ;nbsp;
Average Teacher Salaries (2002-03) ;nbsp; ;nbsp;
;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;Schools within Small Schools Report $29,197 ;nbsp;
;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;State $38,083 ;nbsp;

Source: ;nbsp;Handout material prepared by the office of Senator Ron Raikes, District 25, and distributed
January 18, 2005 at the public hearing for LB 126 (2005).

Senator Raikes believed a move toward K-12 systems would ultimately mean less state resources expended on public education. ;nbsp;He said he would continue to advocate for necessary appropriations for state aid and special education "if we are willing to move to a more efficient organizational structure." ;nbsp;However, to continue with the existing organizational structure would be unacceptable. ;nbsp;"[W]e cannot justify a system that allows students and parents or taxpayers to withdraw from the broader community that supports public education," he said.16 ;nbsp;"The longer we wait, the more taxpayer money that is wasted on high cost per student, and on schools that have no students," he added.17

Senator Raikes insisted every teacher in Nebraska's public education system "deserves equitable treatment" in terms of pay and working conditions.18 ;nbsp;"We cannot justify paying teachers in Class I systems substantially less than those in K-12 systems given our need to attract and retain an outstanding teaching staff," he said.19 ;nbsp;This was particularly underscored, he noted, by the fact that, even though cost per student is typically higher in Class I districts, teachers are paid less "because the structure is not efficient."20

Senator Raikes spoke about the equity of educational opportunities for students in Class I districts compared to those in K-12 systems. ;nbsp;He noted the relatively low percentage of resident students that attend Class I schools and the high number of option students. ;nbsp;Of the 122 affiliated Class I districts, for instance, on average only 54% of the students attending those schools were actual residents of the district while on average 33% were option students from outside the district.21 ;nbsp;He referred to the ratio of resident-to-option students as a "shockingly low endorsement by resident students" especially since the primary purpose of a public school is to serve its resident students.22 ;nbsp;The average percentage of resident students attending Class I schools that were at least associated with a Class VI (high school) district was somewhat better (75%), "but less than a ringing endorsement."23

In Senator Raikes' opinion, the financial issues coupled with the disparity of treatment of students and teachers in Class I schools did not point to an efficient school organizational structure. ;nbsp;"In my view, the state cannot and should not be complicit in this sort of school organization and funding arrangement," Raikes said.24 ;nbsp;"I simply and firmly believe that the best interest of all of us, the greater good for the longer haul, is served by moving to a K-12 school organization," he added.25

Proponents of LB 126 included such organizations and entities as the Nebraska State Education Association (NSEA), the Greater Nebraska Schools Association (GNSA), the Nebraska Council of School Administrators (NCSA), and the State Board of Education. ;nbsp;Jim Griess, NSEA Executive Director, said the teachers' association supported the bill because "bringing all children in Nebraska into a K-12 district is in the best interests of children," and because LB 126 will, in the long-term, be in the best interest of all teachers.26 ;nbsp;"It's high time that all Class I students and teachers are treated fairly," Griess added.27

Steve Joel, Superintendent at Grand Island Public Schools, represented the GNSA, comprising the majority of the large school districts in Nebraska. ;nbsp;"LB 126 isn't about closing schools," Joel testified, "It is about the underlying organizational structure of our school districts and creating a structure that is both fiscally and organizationally sound."28 ;nbsp;Jerry Sellentin, NCSA Executive Director, relayed the decision of his organization's legislative committee, which voted to support LB 126 on the basis that it represented good state policy. ;nbsp;"This has been a difficult issue for decades and the time has come to deal with it," he stated, "But we believe it is the right thing to do for purposes of school organization, finance, coordination of curriculum, and account-ability."29

Fred Meyer, President of the State Board of Education, also testified in support of the legislation. ;nbsp;Meyer testified:

Our State Board of Education feels that the major education policy issue in Nebraska is equity of opportunity for all students. ;nbsp;We believe that there is an essential education to which all students should have access, and that access to this essential education should not be diminished or prohibited by the size of a district or the wealth of a district.30

Meyer said the support of the State Board for LB 126 was consistent with its overall policy objective to provide an essential education for all students. ;nbsp;The policy objective included curriculum coordination, financial determination, governance, and account-ability under a K-12 organization of schools. ;nbsp;The State Board outlined its policy proposal in a separate piece of legislation, LB 467 (2005).31

Opponents of LB 126 included Class I patrons, teachers, and representatives. ;nbsp;Their collective task was to defend the existence of their schools, to counter the arguments made by proponents, and to preserve a way of life and learning. ;nbsp;Ed Swotek, for instance, represented Oak Valley School, a one-room school providing K-8 education. ;nbsp;The school was established in 1869 (just a few years after Nebraska became a state) and lies just northeast of Lincoln. ;nbsp;"Class I schools provide a quality educational environment with exemplary academic results, more parental involvement, better local control, healthy social environments and communities whose economic well-being is tied to their school," Swotek said. ;nbsp;He disagreed with the intentions of the chief sponsor. ;nbsp;He believed LB 126 would force the closure of many attendance centers against the wishes of the affected communities. ;nbsp;The historical trend, he said, was moving toward fewer school districts anyway. ;nbsp;Why force communities to shut the doors of their school until they themselves choose to do so? ;nbsp;"Years from now the legacy of this Legislature will be judged on what priority it places on education," Swotek warned.32

Several Class I teachers testified in opposition to the measure, including Patty Herman, a fifth and sixth grade teacher at Cheney School in Lancaster County offering instruction in kindergarten through eighth grade. ;nbsp;Herman acknowledged that her pay was lower than that found in K-12 institutions, but salary was of secondary importance to her. ;nbsp;"The primary reason for teaching in a Class I school is having the opportunity to really teach," she said.33 ;nbsp;Herman also praised the level of parental involvement at her school. ;nbsp;"Parents volunteer in classrooms, fundraise, coordinate parties, volunteer as board members, donate money and useful equipment, chaperone field trips, sew costumes, and help with concerts and science fairs," she said.34 ;nbsp;Jeanni Hohnstein, representing Lake Alice Public School in Scotts Bluff County, taught in a K-12 system before taking a teaching position at Lake Alice where she has devoted 26 years as a kindergarten teacher. ;nbsp;"I choose to teach in a Class I for a simple reason-working conditions," Hohnstein testified.35 ;nbsp;"Much has been made of low salaries of Class I teachers," she said, "However, salary is hardly the driving force for teacher retention."36

Stephen Swidler, a Class I parent from Oak Valley School, pointed to research that supported smaller schools. ;nbsp;Said Swidler:

Research on school size points to several conclusions about the benefits of smaller schools, specifically, smaller school size is associated with higher achievement. ;nbsp;Smaller schools can also promote equity of achievement among all students. ;nbsp;Smaller schools may be especially important for disadvantaged students and higher achievement is associated with smaller size in poor communities.37

Kevin Cooksley, a board member representing Broken Bow Public Schools (a K-12 school), asked members to preserve what is unique to the rural communities of Nebraska. ;nbsp;Using a twist on the relatively new term within the consolidation lexicon, Cooksley asked the committee to "assimilate LB 126 into the indefinitely postponed file."38

Some of the opponent testimony brought out arguments that even some hardcore proponents of LB 126 would find difficult to counter. ;nbsp;For instance, Tom Davis spoke on behalf of the nine Class I schools comprising the Northeast Nebraska Rural Schools (NEN), a cooperative organization located in Madison and Pierce Counties. ;nbsp;Davis served as superintendent of the cooperative that functions under an interlocal agreement. ;nbsp;Each school retains its own school board, but a separate, centralize school board develops policies and negotiates staff salaries and benefits. ;nbsp;The cooperative functions very similar to a unified district in which separate districts maintain some individual identity while a super board takes on some of the major financial and administrative functions. ;nbsp;"My focus here today will be to give a clear picture of interlocal agreements and what can be accomplished by schools working together," Davis said.39;nbsp;The example of efficiency established by the NEN would resurface several times during floor debate of LB 126.

One of the last opponents to testify on January 18th was Jamie Isom, Superintendent at Valentine Rural High School, a Class VI (high school only) district. ;nbsp;"Valentine is a place where the Class 1-6 system does work," Isom testified, "We're able to provide an efficient education for a very large geographic area very effectively."40 ;nbsp;Valentine represents the largest school district in Nebraska in terms of landmass (3,600 square miles). ;nbsp;There were seventeen Class I districts associated with the high school district with a total K-12 population of 865 students. ;nbsp;Naturally, another major concern for Isom and the district she represented was the transportation provisions contained in the bill. ;nbsp;"If we have to provide transportation for those students, it's estimated that that will be an additional $183,000 for us to have to find somewhere in our budget at least for the initial year," she stated.41

Owing once again to Twain's observation of the nature of history, Valentine and Cherry County as a whole maintained a consistent presence on the issue of mandatory consolidation. ;nbsp;In 1985 during the hearing on LB 662, it was Deb Fischer who testified against the legislation on behalf of the Cherry County School Association.42 ;nbsp;In 2004 Fischer was elected to represent the 43rd District in the Nebraska Legislature. ;nbsp;She was amply prepared to represent the views of much of her constituency during the debate on LB 126. ;nbsp;"I'm very pleased that I have the opportunity to discuss this issue on the floor as a member of the body," Senator Fischer said on the first day of debate on LB 126.43

"Strap on your helmets. It will be a battle"

On January 20th, two days after the public hearing, members of the Education Committee met in executive session to discuss the legislation. ;nbsp;A motion was presented and passed to advance LB 126, the original version of the bill, by a 7-1 vote (Senators Bourne, Byars, Howard, Kopplin, Raikes, Schrock, and Stuhr voting in favor, Senator McDonald voting against).44 ;nbsp;"Strap on your helmets," Senator Raikes told his fellow committee members, "It will be a battle."45

The fact that the bill emerged from committee with absolutely no markup (committee amendments) had to be discouraging to opponents of the bill, but should not have been surprising. ;nbsp;A near identical piece of legislation (LB 1048) was advanced from committee a year earlier, but progressed no further in the legislative process. ;nbsp;Still, the opponents had to feel a certain amount of trepidation at the news of the committee's disposition of the measure. ;nbsp;"The ones of us that are opposed to it will go into Phase 2," said Senator Carol Hudkins of Malcolm, "We're hoping that it's going to take 33 votes (to advance the bill)."46 ;nbsp;Senator Hudkins, who became one of the more vocal opponents of LB 126, was referring to the likely scenario involving a motion for cloture in order to end a filibuster. ;nbsp;Such a motion requires 33 affirmative votes, which was a tally Senator Hudkins hoped would be difficult for proponents to achieve.47

The political process can certainly become ugly at times. ;nbsp;Political insiders joke that making legislation is similar to making sausage -- at times an unsightly process that warrants any excuse for absenteeism. ;nbsp;The debate on LB 126 would live up to everyone's expectations of an all out war. ;nbsp;It started and ended as front-page material for the media, a true clash between those wanting to hang-on to tradition and heritage and those demanding progress for public education. ;nbsp;The debate would touch raw nerves on both sides of the issue, but it was those playing defense that had most to lose, at least as they saw it. ;nbsp;"It's a bigger picture than just the school," said Diane Semrad, an Abie school parent, "If we close the schools, that means our community is dead."48

LB 126 brought out deep feelings about community and education. ;nbsp;As with any issue, however, there is always more to the story than some might want known. ;nbsp;There were, and had been for many years, allegations that some parents in some areas of the state used Class I schools as a means to segregate their children from attendance at larger schools that embrace diversity of race, creed, and color. ;nbsp;This was the sort of discriminatory attitude that was fought, and supposedly defeated back in the 1960s. ;nbsp;There were also allegations that some Class I schools were somewhat akin to quasi-private, religious institutions funded at taxpayer expense.49;nbsp;Most were careful when and how such issues were broached in public settings, but almost everyone close to the debate was aware of the accusations. ;nbsp;Senator Raikes and others were certainly aware, and such stories no doubt fueled their determination to put an end to it, even if it meant throwing out the good with the bad.

"This is an extremely emotional issue and extremely political issue"

The legislative contest for the passage of LB 126 will undoubtedly reside in the pantheon, the Hall of Fame, of all time debates in the history of the Nebraska Legislature, if for the sheer length of the debate if nothing else. ;nbsp;If it is an accepted fact that LB 806, the comprehensive school finance bill of 1997, broke records for length of debate, then LB 126 should be remembered as a runner up. ;nbsp;First-round debate of LB 126 alone would span four separate session days before a vote on advancement was taken. ;nbsp;Second-round debate would require two separate session days before advancement. ;nbsp;LB 126 would also endure the ultimate challenge to any piece of legislation with the adoption of a motion to override a gubernatorial veto.

Table 159. ;nbsp;Chronology of Debate, LB 126 (2005)

Session Day Stage Action
;nbsp; ;nbsp; ;nbsp;
;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;February 10 General File Debated; pending
;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;February 11 General File Debated; pending
;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;February 14 General File Debated; pending
;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;February 15 General File Debated; advanced
;nbsp; ;nbsp; ;nbsp;
;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;May 19 Select File Debated; pending
;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;May 20 Select File Debated; advanced
;nbsp; ;nbsp; ;nbsp;
;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;June 1 Final Reading Passed
;nbsp; ;nbsp; ;nbsp;
;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;June 2 ;nbsp; Vetoed
;nbsp; ;nbsp; ;nbsp;
;nbsp;;nbsp;;nbsp;June 3 ;nbsp; Override approved

Source: ;nbsp;Neb. Legis. Journal, Chronology of Bills, LB 126 (2005), 1963-64

First-round debate began on February 10, 2005. ;nbsp;By this time, the legislation had been designated as an Education Committee priority bill and would enjoy a limited degree of precedence on the legislative agenda. ;nbsp;There was some concern voiced by proponents of the bill over whether the bill should have been tabbed an individual senator priority rather than a committee priority, which has less status within the agenda setting process. ;nbsp;But Senator Raikes was adamant that LB 126 represented a work-product of his whole committee. ;nbsp;"This proposal is a committee effort," he emphasized at both the hearing and later during floor debate.50

On the first day of debate, Senator Raikes would deliver an opening speech very similar to that which he used during the public hearing. ;nbsp;He reviewed the mechanical elements of the bill and how the assimilation process would be conducted. ;nbsp;He then launched into the supporting statistical evidence to underscore the need for change. ;nbsp;Intermixed were punctuation remarks that left no one in doubt of his convictions. ;nbsp;"[W]e cannot justify a system that allows students and parents, or taxpayers, to withdraw from the broader community that supports public education," Senator Raikes said.51 ;nbsp;"I'm convinced the potential gains in efficiency are considerable," he said.52

Principal opponents of the legislation included Senators Carol Hudkins of Malcolm and Adrian Smith of Gering. ;nbsp;Senator Vickie McDonald of St. Paul, a member of the Education Committee, Senators Deb Fischer of Valentine, Lavon Heidemann of Elk Creek, and Mike Flood of Norfolk were also vocal opponents of the measure. ;nbsp;Collectively, they appeared to have a strategy involving relatively calm responses and comebacks to the assertions made by proponents. ;nbsp;They made their case based upon some of the intangible yet fundamental elements of the issue. ;nbsp;Class I schools, they said, represent a viable option, a choice by parents for whatever reason, and should be respected by state policymakers, rather than negated and eliminated. ;nbsp;"They mean the opportunity to learn in a different environment than maybe the larger school in that area," said Senator McDonald.53 ;nbsp;"Why take those options away?" asked Senator Smith.54

In addition to parental choice, opponents spoke of the quality of educational opportunity offered at Class I schools, the level of involvement by parents in their children's education, the dedication of the teaching staff. ;nbsp;"[A]s long as they're providing quality at a reasonable amount, let's let it be," said Senator Smith.55;nbsp;Opponents attacked the assertion concerning the high cost of Class I operations in comparison to K-12 schools by reciting statistics that seemed to punch holes in this argument. ;nbsp;Senator Hudkins, for instance, read aloud the cost per student of Lincoln Public Schools at $8,030, which was above the statewide average of $7,900 per student. ;nbsp;In comparison, Oak Valley School, a Class I district within her legislative district, had a $6,265 cost per student. ;nbsp;Although she admitted that Oak Valley is an elementary institution and it typically costs less to educate an elementary student versus a high school student.

By the time the Legislature adjourned for the day, Senator Raikes successfully sought the approval of a technical amendment to the bill to clarify and harmonize various provisions. ;nbsp;Aside this minor victory, it was clear to everyone that a real fight was in full swing. ;nbsp;Senator Dennis Byars of Beatrice captured it best when he noted, "This is an extremely emotional issue and extremely political issue."56;nbsp;Emotions did run high on the first day of debate and political posturing was everywhere and all at once.

Opponents of the bill had successfully prolonged the discussion without necessarily addressing the merits of the bill itself. ;nbsp;They chose instead to focus on the issues they believed the legislation, in essence, ignored. ;nbsp;A common thread among the opponent speeches was the variance in the two fiscal notes released prior to the start of debate. ;nbsp;But this tactic did not sit well with some lawmakers, including Senator Lowen Kruse of Omaha, who attended a small rural schoolhouse as a boy. ;nbsp;"I see this, dollars part of it, as a non-issue," he said while disclosing his "reluctant firmness" in support of the bill.57 ;nbsp;"My reluctance is because of the cultural value within our society of the one-room schools," he said, "My firmness is because it's time to move on."58

"That is not defensible"

The second day of first-round debate occurred on Friday, February 11, 2005. ;nbsp;The opponents of LB 126 seemed to have gained a renewed vigor and confidence in their fight against the legislation. ;nbsp;Metaphorically speaking, Senator Raikes was placed under the interrogation light by one opponent after another in order to find weaknesses and flaws in the measure he promoted. ;nbsp;But Senator Raikes would have the last word.

It was on the second day of debate that opponents were publicly confronted with factual details concerning certain Class I districts in Nebraska that begged, if not demanded, explanation. ;nbsp;In fact, there would be no explanation, but there would be plenty of deflection.

At the outset of debate, the Legislature took up Senator Carol Hudkins' pending amendment to essentially defer the implementation of the bill for ... a few generations. ;nbsp;"The amendment is quite simple," said Senator Hudkins, "It just delays the implementation of LB 126 for 50 years."59 ;nbsp;In fact, the amendment delayed the effective date to 2055.60 ;nbsp;The humor was certainly not lost on Senator LeRoy Louden of Ellsworth who rose to support what he thought was more or less a bracket motion, adding, "It's just kind of a long ways out there to bracket it."61

Senator Hudkins' amendment was the first in a long line of attempts by opponents to filibuster the bill. ;nbsp;This was certainly a tactic within their prerogative and within the scope of the Rules of the Legislature. ;nbsp;Unfortunately for the opponents, the Hudkins amendment was less than the ideal caliber of stall moves available to them at the start of the day. ;nbsp;It merely put the proponents on notice that they would have to endure a series of frivolous amendments before all was said and done.

Senator Hudkins seemed to base her amendment in part on an unscientific survey conducted by a local TV news station. ;nbsp;The survey produced results demonstrating that 80.6% of those responding favored local control over closure of schools. ;nbsp;"It's not a Gallup Poll," she admitted, "It's just the people who feel strongly about this question that offered their opinion."62 ;nbsp;She did feel that the results accurately represented the views of residents in Lincoln and surrounding areas. ;nbsp;She also believed that Class I schools were on their way out anyway, so why rush it. ;nbsp;"We figure that by the year 2055, there may not be very many Class I's left at all," she concluded.63;nbsp;She withdrew the amendment just prior to a vote on the matter she presented.

Next Senator Vickie McDonald moved to amend the bill. ;nbsp;At least this time the content of the amendment brought about a legitimate, although limited, discussion on the merits of the legislation. ;nbsp;Senator McDonald's amendment was an inquiry into the policy rationale for excluding students who optioned into Class I districts in the total count of students for purposes of authorizing closure of an attendance center. ;nbsp;LB 126 provided very specific factors concerning the ability of K-12 school boards to actually close a former Class I attendance site, and part of the policy objective was to count only those students who actually resided in the former Class I district, not those who optioned into it. ;nbsp;As Senator Raikes stated during the public hearing, "The primary mission of a public school is to serve its resident students."64

Table 160. ;nbsp;Parameters for Closure of Attendance Sites
under LB 126 (2005) as Advanced to General File
  1. Beginning June 15, 2006, school boards would be prohibited from closing an elementary attendance center or changing the grades offered if:

    1. The fall membership for the prior school year included a total number of resident students that was at least 2.5 times the number of grades offered; and

    2. The attendance center is at least 10 miles from another elementary attendance center within the district or the attendance center is the only elementary attendance center located within the boundaries of an incorporated city or village.
  2. Beginning June 15, 2006 until July 1, 2010, school boards would be prohibited from closing an elementary attendance center or changing the grades offered without the approval of at least 75% of the school board if:

    1. The fall membership for the prior school year included a total number of resident students that was at least 2 times the number of grades offered; or

    2. The attendance center is at least 10 miles from another elementary attendance center within the district; or

    3. The attendance center is the only elementary attendance center located within the boundaries of an incorporated city or village.

Source: ;nbsp;Legislative Bill 126, Change provisions relating to school district reorganization, sponsored by Sen. Ron Raikes, Nebraska Legislature, 99th Leg., 1st Sess., 2005, title first read 6 January 2005, § 35, pp. 44-45.

Senator McDonald's amendment certainly represented an appropriate discussion point. ;nbsp;Why should option students be excluded from the count? ;nbsp;How were the various factors developed (e.g., the multiplier of 2.5, and the use of 10 miles)? ;nbsp;The answers to these questions were of particular significance since it could mean the difference between protected versus unprotected status for certain Class I attendance centers.

Senator Raikes' initial response was that the contents of the bill represented the wishes of the majority of the standing committee that forwarded the legislation for floor discussion, on a 7-1 vote, he hastened to add. ;nbsp;Senator McDonald was the lone dissenting vote on advancement of the bill from committee. ;nbsp;The main reason for excluding option students, he said, was to count only those students who actually belong to the resident district. ;nbsp;The second reason, he said, related to what he referred to as the "distaste" among people toward the practice of recruiting students into schools in order to boost enrollment.65;nbsp;Senator Raikes said LB 126 was not a slam on the enrollment option program, but rather an attempt to account for the true number of students affected by a move to close an attendance center. ;nbsp;In other words, the number of students residing in the K-12 district in which the applicable K-12 school board would have the authority to maintain or close the school building under its jurisdiction.

Senator Vickie McDonald was particularly persistent during her questioning of Senator Raikes, who had to feel as though he sat on the eternal witness stand in Hades by the conclusion of the second day of debate. ;nbsp;In a rapid battery of questions, she quizzed Senator Raikes about his insinuation that only Class I schools recruited students:

SENATOR McDONALD: ;nbsp;Yes, and I have to ask you a question. ;nbsp;Does Omaha schools recruit?

SENATOR RAIKES: ;nbsp;I don't know that I could ... Omaha Public School you're talking about?

SENATOR McDONALD: ;nbsp;Yes. ;nbsp;Oh, no, just the Omaha schools. ;nbsp;Schools in the Omaha system, do any of those recruit?

SENATOR RAIKES: ;nbsp;Well, you have different opinions on that.

SENATOR McDONALD: ;nbsp;Have you seen articles in the paper that they recruit?

SENATOR RAIKES: ;nbsp;I can't remember of any.

SENATOR McDONALD: ;nbsp;Was there any passed out in our hearing that had a recruitment for an Omaha school?

SENATOR RAIKES: ;nbsp;There ... yeah, I don't know that I would call it an advertisement,...

SENATOR McDONALD: ;nbsp;I remember that there was.

SENATOR RAIKES: ;nbsp;... but I do remember...

SENATOR McDONALD: ;nbsp;It happened.

SENATOR RAIKES: ;nbsp;... a statement about some deadlines ...

SENATOR McDONALD: ;nbsp;Thank you.

SENATOR RAIKES: ;nbsp;... and so on.66

The opponents repeatedly used the cross-examination ploy on Senator Raikes throughout the day. ;nbsp;Their strategy seemed to involve an attempt to rattle Senator Raikes, or to cause him to misspeak on one issue or another.

Senator McDonald also renewed her attack on the revised fiscal note. ;nbsp;She questioned Senator Raikes about the origin of the new information that caused the Fiscal Office to issue a new estimate, a substantial increase in the projected savings to the state if LB 126 became law. ;nbsp;"If we don't know the list of the schools that will be closing, how are we going to know the estimate of savings?" she asked, "I guess I question that fiscal note with the new information if we don't know who ... what the schools are."67 ;nbsp;Senator Raikes responded with some frustration in is his voice. ;nbsp;"[Y]ou're on the Education Committee, you're well aware of what we've done on LB 126," he retorted, "You know that we have gotten information from the department."68

By this time, the attack on the Fiscal Office was growing old, particularly for the chair of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Don Pederson, who spoke against the attack the day before. ;nbsp;Pederson said:

I'm very concerned about the comments that have been made on this floor about our Legislative Fiscal Office. ;nbsp;I have served on the Appropriations Committee for nine years and I have never once found any area where any fiscal note was determined based on anything other than the facts involved.69

Nevertheless, the opponents would continue to use the work of the Fiscal Office as a political tool in their effort to derail LB 126.

Senator Raikes was not without his own offensive plan on the second day of debate. ;nbsp;He was fully prepared to fire back to those who doubted the time had come for decisive action on school reorganization. ;nbsp;Distributing handouts to those on the floor, Senator Raikes outlined a few examples of a broken system, a system that underserved some students to the point of being unconscionable.

The handouts were actually spreadsheets of data outlining two existing situations involving affiliated or associated Class I districts with a high school district. ;nbsp;The first involved Lexington Public Schools and its affiliated Class I districts. ;nbsp;Senator Raikes drew his colleagues' attention to the fact that not one of the Class I districts had a single student of limited English proficiency (LEP) nor a single student qualified for free or reduced lunch/milk programs. ;nbsp;On the other hand, the high school district, Lexington Public Schools, had no less than 31.38% LEP and nearly 46% qualified for nutrition assistance programs (indicating poverty). ;nbsp;The data pointed to tremendous disparities and inequities among students within the same general geographic area.

Table 161. ;nbsp;Selected Student and Spending Data from Lexington Public
Schools and its Affiliated Class I Districts



Source: ;nbsp;Partial data from the handout distributed by Senator Ron Raikes on the floor of the Legislature
on February 11, 2005 during the debate on LB 126 (2005).

The second situation involved seven Class I districts associated with Schuyler Central High School, which is a Class VI (high school only) district. ;nbsp;The data demonstrated that among the seven elementary districts, only one Class I school had enrollment that included English language learners (ELL) and this same district had a high proportion of students qualified for nutrition assistance programs. ;nbsp;This same district possessed the lowest valuation per student among the seven Class I districts. ;nbsp;The data pointed to a single district where poor minority students attended while white children were primarily enrolled in the other Class I districts. ;nbsp;In the minds of some, the Lexington and Schuyler data pointed to white flight.

Table 162. ;nbsp;Selected Student Data from the Schuyler School System



Source: ;nbsp;Partial data from the handout distributed by Senator Ron Raikes on the floor of the Legislature
on February 11, 2005 during the debate on LB 126 (2005).

Senator Raikes had hit his stride on the issue of equity. ;nbsp;This was, by far, a more viable argument than any potential savings to the State or achievement of efficiencies among local governments. ;nbsp;The issue of fair treatment of all students is fundamental to the objective of a sound school finance system. ;nbsp;In fact, the State possesses the rationale function, the power if not duty to intervene in circumstances where some of its citizens are being treated differently than others, especially concerning such a vital purpose as provision of free public education. ;nbsp;The State must serve as the entity that offers meaning to the often used phrase, "equity of educational opportunity," or else it becomes merely another fancy phrase and use of words, and empty promises.

Having explained the data contained in the handouts, Senator Raikes could look across the floor of the Legislature to deliver what proponents viewed as a knock out punch. ;nbsp;He said:

What I want to know, is there someone who endorses this in this body? ;nbsp;Is there someone who says this is fine, this is what we should do. ;nbsp;If you do, you've got your lights on, stand up. ;nbsp;I'll sit here and listen to you explain to me why this is something we ought to do. ;nbsp;Explain to me why, when we've got Hispanic families coming into this state, working their tails off, working two jobs, that they're not entitled to have their kids participate in the school system that is adequately funded and with an adequate building. ;nbsp;Please explain to me why that should be the case. ;nbsp;This Class I system allows this to happen. ;nbsp;It must stop. ;nbsp;It must stop now.70

No doubt the opponents of LB 126 heard what Senator Raikes had to say. ;nbsp;Raikes was seldom known to raise his voice or otherwise demonstrate emotion on the floor of the Legislature. ;nbsp;In this case, however, the frustration was evident and real.

Senator Smith, a graduate of a Class I school in Scotts Bluff County, was the first prominent opponent of the assimilation bill to address the evidence submitted by Senator Raikes. ;nbsp;"I believe that this issue of poverty and race is an issue of convenience for the proponents of LB 126," he said, "It's one that gets a lot of attention because we're, to use Senator Fischer's term, using a broad-brush approach except, except in the urban areas."71 ;nbsp;Senator Smith effectively deflected Raikes' argument by suggesting that poverty and race issues remain unaddressed in Nebraska's urban area schools. ;nbsp;"We wouldn't want to do that because we don't have the political will to do that," Smith continued, "We've got the political will to pick on the little guys, so we're going to do that."72

Senator Elaine Stuhr, herself a graduate of a Class I school, came to Senator Raikes' assistance several times throughout the debate on LB 126. ;nbsp;She cast her support for the concept of assimilation in 2003 and weathered more than slight criticism from some of her own constituents for doing so. ;nbsp;On February 11th she assisted the cause of LB 126 by reading aloud to her colleagues a portion of a letter received from a citizen outside her own legislative district. ;nbsp;A Madison-area resident wrote:

'Dear Senator, please work hard to close Class I school districts in Nebraska. ;nbsp;I believe all children have the right to the articulated K-12 curriculum found in K-12 school districts. ;nbsp;I further believe that Class I school districts are often white flight dodges for families trying to avoid our growing Hispanic population.'73

Senator Stuhr admitted she likely would not be standing to support a mandatory merger bill ten years ago. ;nbsp;But, she said, things change. ;nbsp;"Too often Class I school districts are located within five miles of the town school," she said, "Clearly, distance is not a factor in determining the need for such an attendance center."74

Senator Carol Hudkins was skeptical of the expertise possessed by the unknown Madison-area resident on this situation. ;nbsp;Said Hudkins:

Look at the demographics in our state. ;nbsp;How many schools are actually affected by minority ... not "affected." ;nbsp;Not a good choice of words. ;nbsp;How many schools have minorities populations? ;nbsp;There are getting to be more, but these schools, these Class I schools, are bound to accept students if they have room.75

She insisted that Class I schools accept all students no matter the color of their skin, so long as there is room for them. ;nbsp;"If there is a Hispanic student, a Chinese student, a black student, a green student, doesn't matter, if there's room they have to be accepted," she insisted.76

Senator Raikes stood patiently behind his desk on the floor of the Legislature often leaning slightly against the desk behind his own. ;nbsp;Waiting. ;nbsp;Finally, just prior to adjournment for the day, Senator Raikes re-addressed the data concerning the Schuyler and Lexington schools, which he had previously presented for his colleagues' review. ;nbsp;Said Raikes:

I have not heard anyone defend that, and I don't blame you. ;nbsp;I don't think you can defend that. ;nbsp;That is not defensible. ;nbsp;The point was made, well, why don't we talk about school finance. ;nbsp;School finance is certainly more important than school structure. ;nbsp;What I would remind you is that I have no interest in dumping more money into a school structure that produces these kinds of results. ;nbsp;I don't think you should either. ;nbsp;We need to get this straightened out first and then we'll talk about school finance. ;nbsp;Again, I would simply emphasize this is not something you can defend, this is not something you should defend. ;nbsp;I have not heard anyone defend it, and I think for good reason. ;nbsp;Look at both Schuyler and Lexington. ;nbsp;Remind yourself of what's going on. ;nbsp;We simply cannot endorse that. ;nbsp;We can't tolerate that.77

The second day would come to a close without final disposition on the pending McDonald amendment related to counting option students for purposes of protecting attendance centers from closure. ;nbsp;In truth, very little time in the course of the long day was devoted to the actual merits of the proposed amendment.

"Compromise is what it's all about"

The debate on LB 126 dominated the 25th and 26th days of the 2005 Session (February 10th and 11th). ;nbsp;The third consecutive day of first-round debate occurred on Valentines Day, Monday, February 14th. ;nbsp;One would be hard pressed to say there was love in the air, in the traditional sense, but there was love in the sense that the word "compromise" was first used and applied to the legislative issue at hand.

Senator Vickie McDonald, a vocal opponent of LB 126, had the final word during debate on the second day. ;nbsp;"[W]hen we look at this bill, it's bigger than just closing our Class Is," she said, "It's taking our rural identity away."78 ;nbsp;The body had not yet taken action on her pending amendment to include option students in the counts used to determine whether a K-12 board could act to close an elementary attendance center. ;nbsp;Senator McDonald would also have the last word on the third day of debate. ;nbsp;Her message, consistent with that of the previous day of debate, also incorporated a willingness to work toward a mutual satisfaction on the matter. ;nbsp;"Compromise is what it's all about," she said, "We need to do that on this bill."79 ;nbsp;"This is a big issue for rural Nebraska, taking away their Class I schools opportunity, to take away rural ... any possible chance of rural economic development."80

Senator Adrian Smith, also an ardent opponent of the bill, was actually the first to publicly call for a meeting of the minds on the third day of debate. ;nbsp;"From the beginning, I have said that I'm willing to compromise on the issue as it relates to effectiveness and efficiency," he said.81 ;nbsp;"I think we need to sit down, both sides, and air our concerns."82 ;nbsp;But what Senator Smith called "effectiveness and efficiency," Senator Raikes preferred to call "efficiency and equity."83

Senator Raikes may have battled on the defensive side during the second day of debate, but the third day was all offense. ;nbsp;He opened the day's debate with a mission to clarify to his colleagues the "dominant themes" of the overall purpose for LB 126: ;nbsp;"efficiency and equity."84 ;nbsp;Concerning efficiency, he said, there are too many school districts, too many separate education-related political subdivisions. ;nbsp;There were 488 school districts in Nebraska in 2005 of which 47% or 231 were Class I (elementary only) districts. ;nbsp;In all the 231 Class I districts served less than 3% of the total number of students in Nebraska. ;nbsp;The affiliated Class I districts only served slightly over half the students residing in their districts, and do so at a cost per student that on average is higher than found in K-12 districts, and in some cases much higher. ;nbsp;"There is $75 million of taxpayer money budgeted to these 231 Class I schools," Senator Raikes said, "Eleven of them have no students, yet are budgeted over $800,000."85;nbsp;At the same time, the teachers employed by these Class I districts were paid disproportionately less than their counterparts employed in high school districts. ;nbsp;LB 126, he said, was intended in part to produce a more efficient school organizational structure while at the same time addressing other issues such as equity in teacher pay.

On the issue of equity, which received a fair amount of attention on the second day of debate, Senator Raikes said the state is "bound by good conscience, at least, to see that educational funding is distributed so that students most in need are not under-funded as compared to students least in need."86 ;nbsp;Race, he said, was not a factor per se in the state aid formula, but poverty and the ability to speak English do represent utilized factors, as they should be. ;nbsp;"The information I handed out shows that needy students are being under-funded compared to less needy students in both Class I-Class VI systems, and in affiliated Class I districts," he said.87

Senator Raikes held fast to the notion that LB 126 would produce a financial savings to the state. ;nbsp;"I am guessing that most of the opponents of this bill would describe themselves as fiscally conservative," Raikes said, "They have the burden of explaining why they are opposed to a major reduction in government bureaucracy and a savings of more than $12 million annually."88

The issue of racial discrimination seemed to weight heavy on the minds of some legislators on the third day. ;nbsp;There seemed to be an effort on the part of some to distance themselves, and the Class I districts they defended, from insinuations of that nature. ;nbsp;However, Senator Ray Aguilar of Grand Island had no compunction in addressing the matter head on. ;nbsp;Said Aguilar:

I agree with his [Senator Raikes'] comment that racism shouldn't be part of our legislation, but it definitely should be part of our discussion, because I think there's a lot of senators in here that either think it doesn't exist or choose to just stay quiet on the issue and hope that it goes away. ;nbsp;Well, it's not going to go away, folks. ;nbsp;It's part of life here in Nebraska.89

Senator Aguilar addressed the contention made by opponents that Latinos and other minorities always have the option to enroll their children in a Class I district if they so choose. ;nbsp;But the reality of the matter is far different. ;nbsp;"We're talking about families that both parents are working, they still probably only have one vehicle," he said, "They're struggling."90 ;nbsp;"They're trying to make a better life for themself, but it's tough."91

Senator Raikes and other proponents should have felt good about the third day's debate, even though the bill was effectively stalled on General File. ;nbsp;Opponents were publicly talking about compromise, although talking about compromise and actual compromise are two separate events. ;nbsp;Perhaps troublesome to proponents and hopeful to opponents was the fact that not all lawmakers had yet taken a side. ;nbsp;There were still undecided votes. ;nbsp;"I'm an actual in-the-middle, on-the-fence, uncommitted vote," said Senator Dave Landis of Lincoln.92 ;nbsp;"I am subject to the persuasion of both sides," he said, "And I want you to know, neither side has done it so far."93

Just as troubling, or hopeful from another perspective, was the as yet undecided administration. ;nbsp;Governor Dave Heineman, serving his first year as the state's chief executive officer, said he had been watching the debate closely. ;nbsp;"I'm going to continue to monitor this," he said, "I'm very open-minded and trying to learn more."94;nbsp;In truth, there was speculation about the Governor's opinion from the very start of the session. ;nbsp;Would the assimilation bill require a simple majority to pass or 30 votes to override a veto? ;nbsp;No one seemed to know. ;nbsp;But it weighed heavy on everyone's mind.

By the end of the third day of first-round consideration, the Legislature had effectively devoted about seven and a half hours of debate on LB 126. ;nbsp;At least one major newspaper alluded to the notion that proponents need only hold out another half hour of debate before offering a motion for cloture (to force an end to debate). ;nbsp;In fact, under the old rule, a motion for cloture could not be made until at least eight hours of debate on any given stage of consideration. ;nbsp;However, in 2001 the rules were changed to permit the motion at just about any time so long as the presiding officer agrees that a full and fair debate has been afforded. ;nbsp;If the presiding officer disagrees with the mover, the motion will be ruled out of order and the ruling may not be subject to challenge. ;nbsp;If the presiding officer does not rule otherwise, a vote on the cloture motion is taken immediately requiring a two-thirds majority vote of the body to be successful (33 votes).95

"We have reached what I call an accommodation"

An extraordinary event occurred on the fourth and final day of first-round debate on LB 126, an event for which proponents would be very grateful. ;nbsp;The debate took place on the morning of February 15, 2005, and would last no more than a few hours. ;nbsp;At the outset of debate, it appeared that nothing new had transpired between the two sides. ;nbsp;Much of the same arguments levied the previous three session days were once again brought out and rehashed.

Those monitoring the debate, both within and outside the chamber, felt something was in the wind about half way through the morning debate. ;nbsp;Sidebar conversations are nothing out of the ordinary during a typical debate. ;nbsp;Senators gather in small clusters to confer and discuss privately while at the same time others speak "on mike" or wait their turn to speak. ;nbsp;To the casual observer, it seems as though they often do not listen to one another while they move around on the floor, or depart the chamber to meet with lobbyists and constituents. ;nbsp;In truth, the real "politicking" occurs at many levels and often the small gatherings to the side of the chamber are strategy sessions or efforts to seek a compromise on a given matter. ;nbsp;Such was the case on February 15th.

The initial indication occurred when Senator Raikes offered his own "on mike" allotment of time to Senator Beutler, a fellow proponent, in order that Senator Raikes could have a sidebar discussion with Speaker Brashear and others. ;nbsp;"I understand we're trying to work something out," Senator Beutler began before using the donated five minutes to speak, ostensibly on the bill, but perhaps more to give the sidebar discussion the necessary time.96

Eventually, about an hour later, all necessary private discussions had transpired with apparent success. ;nbsp;Speaker Kermit Brashear approached a microphone to offer what, for proponents, was an extraordinary act of leadership. ;nbsp;"[W]e have reached what I call an accommodation," the Speaker began.97

Brashear, in his usual eloquence, outlined the main objective of the bill, to move toward a K-12 organization, along with the concerns brought forth by various opponents of the measure. ;nbsp;He deliberately chose to stand near a microphone opposite to where Senator Raikes' desk was situated in order, he said, to facilitate a colloquy between himself and Senator Raikes. ;nbsp;"I was asked last evening to become involved with this and to be helpful, and that's my role" Speaker Brashear said, "I'm articulating it because the people who asked me to intervene have asked me to articulate the transaction."98

The Speaker carefully wove through the intricate and emotional issues that had become part of the overall debate. ;nbsp;An obvious attempt was made to avoid degrading or otherwise belittling anyone's position. ;nbsp;Nonetheless, he said, the time was at hand to make a decision on advancement with the promise of negotiations before second-round consideration. ;nbsp;"We've had a full and fair, well-prepared, substantive debate on this subject," Brashear said.99 ;nbsp;"[T]here must be good faith negotiation between General and Select," he said, "And I will, as an effort to facilitate this transaction accommodation, I have said I will utilize, fairly and justly, the powers of my office with regard to the scheduling on Select File."100

A grateful chair of the Education Committee responded with relief. ;nbsp;"[T]hank you very much, Mr. Speaker, for your efforts," Senator Raikes said, "They have been invaluable."101 ;nbsp;A few of the ardent opponents also took a few minutes to address the Speaker's proposal. ;nbsp;"[The devil is in the details," said Senator Adrian Smith, stating that opponents still had grave concerns with the legislation.102 ;nbsp;"I have mixed emotions about this, LB 126," said Senator Carol Hudkins, "Obviously, you know I don't like it, but we are willing to enter good faith negotiations with Senator Raikes."103

The body took quick action to either withdraw or re-file pending amendments before a vote to advance was taken. ;nbsp;Senator McDonald, for instance, withdrew her pending amendment concerning option students within the count for purposes of closing attendance centers. ;nbsp;At 11:09 a.m. (CST) on February 15, 2005, the Legislature voted to advance LB 126 by a 33-8 vote.104 ;nbsp;Ironically, the bill advanced with the exact number of affirmative votes necessary to successfully pass a motion for cloture, which became unnecessary due to Speaker Brashear's efforts to intervene.

Table 163. ;nbsp;Vote to Advance LB 126 to E&R Initial

Voting Aye: 33
Aguilar Combs Janssen Pahls Schrock
Baker Cornett Jensen Pedersen Stuhr
Beutler Cudaback Johnson Preister Synowiecki
Bourne Engel Kopplin Price Thompson
Brashear Foley Kremer Raikes Wehrbein
Brown Friend Kruse Redfield ;nbsp;
Byars Howard Mines Schimek ;nbsp;
;nbsp;
Voting Nay: 8
Erdman Heidemann Langemeier McDonald ;nbsp;
Fischer Hudkins Louden Smith ;nbsp;
;nbsp;
Present, Not Voting: 6
Burling Connealy Flood ;nbsp; ;nbsp;
Chambers Cunningham Stuthman ;nbsp; ;nbsp;
;nbsp;
Excused, Not Voting: 2
Landis Pederson ;nbsp; ;nbsp; ;nbsp;

Source: ;nbsp;Neb. Legis. Journal, February 15, 2005, 519.

Little did anyone know, at the time, that it would be over three long months before LB 126 would return to the agenda for second-round consideration. ;nbsp;In between were negotiations, frustration, posturing, but little to no break through.

"We have provided opportunity for compromise"

Between General File and Second File, several events occurred to further shape opinions one way or another. ;nbsp;The first occurred in western Nebraska concerning the communities of Gordon, Rushville, and surrounding areas. ;nbsp;It was here on March 8, 2005 that four Class I districts effectively blocked the merger of two high school districts: ;nbsp;Gordon and Rushville. ;nbsp;The proposed merger had been in the works for some time, but the merger resolution required the approval of boards from all affected school districts, which included two high school districts and fifteen Class I districts. ;nbsp;The boards representing the two high school districts along with eleven Class I districts approved the plan, but the boards of four elementary districts (Merriman, Mirage Flats, Prairie View and Sheridan County District 131) voted against. ;nbsp;The result was a veto of the entire plan. ;nbsp;The minority overruled the majority.

Naturally, those working hard to create an efficient school system were disappointed. ;nbsp;"Instead of having somebody do it for us, we had hoped to do it this way," Gordon Mills, president of the Gordon High School board said, "We wanted to be ahead of LB 126."105 ;nbsp;The local matter also provided fodder for Senator Raikes, who had argued during first-round debate of LB 126 about the need for state sanctioned school reorganization. ;nbsp;"It goes to the veto-power issue," Senator Raikes said, "If you've got two or three very small groups that can thwart the will of the entire community, that's an issue."106

The second situation involved the Cheney Public School, a Class I district, and one of the four high school districts with which it was affiliated, Lincoln Public Schools (LPS). ;nbsp;State law required the high school districts to approve the budgets of affiliated Class I districts. ;nbsp;On March 22, 2005, the LPS school board voted to oppose a request made by the Cheney board for additional budget authority for 2005-06. ;nbsp;The total amount requested was $87,656 of which $47,081 would have been the responsibility of LPS under the affiliation arrangement. ;nbsp;"Now with the decision by the LPS board today, Cheney has been remanded to spend less per child than the state average," wrote Cheney School Board President Matt Nessetti in an email message.107 ;nbsp;"This is a near impossibility for any small school such as Cheney," he added.108;nbsp;The cost per student for Cheney Public School had been $8,851, but without the additional budget authority, the cost per student fell to $7,306 ($594 below the state average).

Were the Gordon/Rushville and Cheney/LPS events related to the divisive debate surrounding LB 126, or were they unrelated events that would have occurred even if LB 126 did not exist? ;nbsp;Board members representing a few of the Class I districts that blocked the Gordon/Rushville merger said they voted against it because they felt the issue should be decided instead by the local electorate. ;nbsp;LPS officials alluded to overall budget reductions as the reason for denying Cheney Public School's additional budget authority request. ;nbsp;The Cheney event, of course, did not escape the attention of opponents of LB 126, particularly Senator Adrian Smith, who used several opportunities during the long debate to criticize Lincoln Public Schools.

Meanwhile the reported progress of the good faith negotiations on the controversial assimilation bill depended upon to whom one spoke and on which day. ;nbsp;Both sides accused the other of stalling, refusing to meet, and generally bad faith efforts to arrive at a compromise. ;nbsp;But for the chief sponsor of LB 126, time was of the essence. ;nbsp;"I think there is a point at which you say we have provided opportunity for input, we have provided opportunity for compromise," Senator Raikes said on April 8th.109 ;nbsp;In truth, Senator Raikes had taken the initiative to meet with opponents on a one-on-one basis, he had offered various proposals for consideration, but it seemed as though the opponents themselves were not sure how or when to respond. ;nbsp;"We're getting ready to negotiate," said Senator Heidemann.110 ;nbsp;"We work on it every day," he said, "It's not an easy issue."111

Also of significance was Governor Heineman's opinion on the matter, which seemed to be taking shape as the weeks dragged on. ;nbsp;During a press conference on April 19th, the Governor appeared to be hinting toward disapproval of the legislation. ;nbsp;He said his main concern was the provision of quality education for all children. ;nbsp;He raised concerns about whether LB 126 would actually save all that much for the State and whether it was prudent policy to interfere with local control over school organization. ;nbsp;At several meetings held by education-related groups, Governor Heineman rhetorically asked whether all the schools located in Omaha would also be willing to merge into one K-12 district. ;nbsp;What is good for the goose is good for the gander, he postulated. ;nbsp;Proponents of LB 126, of course, believed the Governor had missed the point since the objective of the legislation was an all K-12 school organization. ;nbsp;What happens in Omaha and other large cities is a separate matter, they thought.

"A good proposal"

Finally, on May 19, 2005, the 81st day of the 90-day session, LB 126 once again appeared on the Legislature's daily agenda. ;nbsp;It had been three long months since the topic of Class I assimilation had been addressed on the floor of the Legislature, although the issue was never far from anyone's mind.

Whether by design or happenstance, Senator Raikes never spoke to the issue he so passionately upheld during that first day of Select File debate. ;nbsp;And perhaps this was the best strategy. ;nbsp;Say nothing and survey the scene. ;nbsp;Opponents, on the other hand, did talk, and talk.

There was a good amount of complaint from the opponents about the negotiation process that took place in the previous three months. ;nbsp;Interestingly, one of the opponents, Senator Mike Flood of Norfolk, had this to say about the process:

[T]his morning's negotiation wasn't our first negotiation. ;nbsp;For those of you that maybe are on the fringe or may be supporting LB 126, you may wonder why we're having this trouble trying to put together deals and negotiate different interests. ;nbsp;And that's because each one of the rural senators comes from a different position.112

As events would unfold, it became obvious that the weak link in the opponents' strategy was the lack of agreement among them. ;nbsp;Perhaps another reason for Senator Raikes to carefully pick when and how he chose to speak to the legislation.

Senator Flood offered one of the more compelling reasons to question the one-size-fits-all approach to LB 126. ;nbsp;Senator Flood admirably represented the Northeast Nebraska (NEN) Class I cooperative, which resided mostly in Madison County. ;nbsp;Senator Flood worked diligently to prove the merits of such cooperatives, so long as they adhere to certain standards. ;nbsp;In his opinion, the best reason to oppose LB 126 was that it placed all Class I districts in the same light even though there were examples of efficient systems within the elementary-only structure. ;nbsp;"My interest in this is to find something that treats all different Class I schools fairly and yet is responsive to what the Class IIIs are telling us they're looking for in efficiency, the reason we have LB 126," Flood said.113

However, any positive discussion had to be weighed against the less constructive comments and dialogue, which, as heartfelt as it was, simply did not lend itself to the overall debate. ;nbsp;For instance, Senator Smith stated:

An interesting journey indeed and it gets more interesting with every day and with every minute. ;nbsp;And I would like to speak candidly. ;nbsp;I regret being nice on General File because there were some issues that I thought could be included and would be included. ;nbsp;Shame on me for not requiring those in writing. ;nbsp;Shame on me.114

"'Tis the season," Speaker Brashear said before using his authority as Speaker to close debate for the day.115;nbsp;There was simply no progress on the issue to warrant continued discussion.

The following day would be different. ;nbsp;On the last day of Select File debate, Senator Raikes would offer what he called "a good proposal," a compromise amendment.116 ;nbsp;In exchange for a green light on some of the major components of the legislation, Senator Raikes' amendment would offer more protection against closure of Class I attendance centers. ;nbsp;In addition, the amendment would permit more input from Class I officials through the formation of "operating councils" to serve as advisory groups on matters including facilities, budgets and personnel decisions. ;nbsp;As illustrated in Table 164, the amendment also provided rural education transition funds for Class II or III school districts formed from a Class VI system having 600 or more students to help offset the initial costs of reorganization.

Table 164. ;nbsp;Provisions of AM1672 to LB 126 (2005) Coupled
with Surviving Provisions from Original Bill
  1. Reorganization.

    1. On or before December 1, 2005, the State Committee for the Reorganization of School Districts must issue orders merging the property of each Class I school district into one or more Class II, III, IV or VI school districts.

    2. On or before December 1, 2005, the State Committee shall also order each Class VI school district to be converted into a Class II or Class III school district.

    3. The effective date for mergers is June 15, 2006.

    4. Bonded indebtedness approved prior to the mergers remains the responsibility of the property owners in the original district voting such bonds.

    5. Elementary attendance centers may be designated as community schools through the formation of advisory operating councils.

  2. Attendance Site Closures.

    1. The amendment provided that an elementary attendance center cannot be closed until students that will be in kindergarten in 2005-06 complete the highest grade offered at the site, as long as the center has at least five resident students.

    2. After the initial protection expires, a 75% majority of a board may close an attendance center with at least ten resident students that is within four miles, but less than ten, of another elementary site in the district.

    3. Centers cannot be closed if there are at least ten resident students and the center is at least ten miles from another elementary site in the district, having ten students, or the center is the only attendance site within the boundaries of an incorporated city or village.

    4. No center may be closed if a student resides over twenty miles from the nearest attendance site.

  3. Funding.

    1. Class II or III school districts formed from a Class VI system having 600 or more students are eligible for rural education transition funds for a three-year period.

    2. Class II and III school districts may also qualify for elementary improvement grants for a three-year period if certain conditions are met.

  4. Transportation Requirements.

    1. Transportation requirements are repealed for some classes of school districts and requires all districts to provide transportation or pay a transportation allowance for students in grades kindergarten through eight who live more than four miles from school.

    2. Repeals the requirement for Class II and III school districts, that were not formed from former Class VI school systems, to transport or pay an allowance for the transportation of secondary students in grades nine through twelve who live more than four miles from school.

  5. Certification Date. ;nbsp;Changes the certification date for 2006-07 state aid from February 1st to March 1st for 2006 only.

Sources: ;nbsp;Neb. Legis. Journal, Raikes AM1672, printed separate, 19 May 2005, 1679. ;nbsp;Amendment, Raikes AM1672 to LB 126 (2005), 1-16.

One of the unfortunate side affects of LB 126 is the loss of federal Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP) funds, approximately $1.7 million in all. ;nbsp;The federal funds are available to schools with fewer than 600 students. ;nbsp;School districts in Nebraska were awarded a total of $7.4 million of REAP funds in 2004-05. ;nbsp;Senator Raikes attempted to account for some of this loss by including transition funds in his compromise amendment. ;nbsp;The "rural education transition funds" would be used for Class II or III school districts formed from a Class VI system having 600 or more students. ;nbsp;Schools would be eligible for transition funds for a three-year period (2006-07, 2007-08 and 2008-09). ;nbsp;It would cost the state $650,000 in 2006-07 for such transition funding. ;nbsp;Senator Raikes would, therefore, need to introduce an appropriation ("A") bill to cover this expenditure.117

The compromise amendment also provided for "elementary improvement" grants for Class II and III school districts that meet certain criteria outlined in the proposal. ;nbsp;The grants would be available for a three-year period (2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10). ;nbsp;Qualifying districts must have an approved bond issue for at least $2 million to remodel or build a new elementary attendance center. ;nbsp;The bond issue must be approved after June 15, 2006 and on or before June 14, 2007. ;nbsp;The amendment requires the State Board of Education to determine and approve the project as being designed to improve the educational environment for students with diverse economic and cultural backgrounds. ;nbsp;Funding for the grants could be deferred until the 2006 Session and would not need to be accounted within the A-bill to LB 126.118

So how much could be saved if the Raikes amendment was adopted? ;nbsp;The Fiscal Office estimated that 63 Class I attendance centers would be qualified for closure by their respective K-12 school boards beginning in 2006-07. ;nbsp;This does not mean the K-12 boards would, in fact, opt to do so. ;nbsp;However, if all such boards took action to the close the centers, the State would theoretically save about $4.7 million. ;nbsp;Additional savings might be realized in future years depending upon the number of closures by K-12 boards, but these savings may be offset by additional expenditures by the same K-12 districts that absorbed those students.119;nbsp;Once again, the savings factor simply did not constitute the best reason to support LB 126, although proponents would argue that other factors would more than justify support for the measure.

Senator Raikes' amendment effectively divided the opponents and paved the way for advancement of LB 126. ;nbsp;For instance, Senators Smith and Fischer remained opposed to the legislation, but Senators Hudkins and McDonald agreed to support it. ;nbsp;"[W]e came to a compromise," said Senator McDonald.120 ;nbsp;Some opponents believed the amendment represented improvement, but not enough to change their position. ;nbsp;"Do I believe that AM1672 is better than the green copy?" Senator Erdman asked aloud, "I sure do."121 ;nbsp;Senator Erdman, however, was not sufficiently convinced to alter his viewpoint.

Table 165. ;nbsp;Record Vote: ;nbsp;Senator Raikes' Compromise Amendment,
AM1672 to LB 126 (2005)

Voting in the affirmative, 35:
Aguilar Byars Janssen Mines Redfield
Baker Connealy Johnson Pahls Schimek
Beutler Cunningham Kopplin Pedersen Schrock
Bourne Engel Kremer Pederson Stuhr
Brashear Foley Landis Preister Synowiecki
Brown Howard Louden Price Thompson
Burling Hudkins McDonald Raikes Wehrbein
;nbsp;
Voting in the negative, 6:
Erdman Flood Langemeier ;nbsp; ;nbsp;
Fischer Heidemann Smith ;nbsp; ;nbsp;
;nbsp;
Present and not voting, 6:
Chambers Cudaback Jensen ;nbsp; ;nbsp;
Combs Friend Stuthman ;nbsp; ;nbsp;
;nbsp;
Excused and not voting, 2:
Cornett Kruse ;nbsp; ;nbsp; ;nbsp;

Source: ;nbsp;Neb. Legis. Journal, 20 May 2005, 1691.

Senator Raikes had a victory in hand, and had every reason to be pleased with the vote. ;nbsp;However, a few minutes after the vote on the compromise amendment, the body voted on advancement to Final Reading. ;nbsp;As illustrated in Table 166, the results were somewhat worrisome assuming proponents would eventually need 30 votes to override a veto. ;nbsp;And they would.

Table 166. ;nbsp;Record Vote: ;nbsp;Vote to Advance LB 126 to E&R Final

Voting in the affirmative, 29:
Aguilar Byars Janssen Pahls Schimek
Baker Cunningham Jensen Pedersen Stuhr
Beutler Engel Johnson Preister Synowiecki
Brashear Foley Kremer Price Thompson
Brown Friend Landis Raikes Wehrbein
Burling Howard Mines Redfield ;nbsp;
;nbsp;
Voting in the negative, 12:
Connealy Fischer Hudkins McDonald ;nbsp;
Cudaback Flood Langemeier Smith ;nbsp;
Erdman Heidemann Louden Stuthman ;nbsp;
;nbsp;
Present and not voting, 5:
Bourne Chambers Combs Kopplin Schrock
;nbsp;
Excused and not voting, 3:
Cornett Kruse Pederson ;nbsp; ;nbsp;

Source: ;nbsp;Neb. Legis. Journal, 20 May 2005, 1692.

Reaction to the adoption of the compromise amendment along with the advancement of LB 126 was mixed as expected. ;nbsp;George Lauby, representing Class I's United, expressed both sadness and gratitude. ;nbsp;He applauded the efforts made by various legislators to oppose the measure. ;nbsp;"I think they worked very hard to get what they thought they could get, and we appreciate their efforts," Lauby said.122 ;nbsp;Proponents were naturally pleased, but also worried whether they would have sufficient votes to pass a motion to override. ;nbsp;Lobbyists representing education groups and school districts supportive of LB 126 immediately began talking privately with lawmakers to affirm their position. ;nbsp;The Governor, in the meantime, was mostly quiet about his view on the legislation, which seemed to point to a veto action. ;nbsp;Rural senators such as Deb Fischer of Valentine were not shy about piling on the pressure. ;nbsp;"I don't believe he can ever come and campaign in the 3rd (Congressional) District unless he vetoes it," she said in reference to Governor Heineman.123

"This is a historically very difficult, difficult subject"

For those who appreciate dramatic finishes, the 2005 Session was made to order. ;nbsp;Final Reading of LB 126 occurred on June 1, 2005 (the 88th day of the session), Governor Heineman vetoed the bill on June 2nd (the 89th day), and Legislature voted to override the veto on June 3rd (the 90th and last day of the session). ;nbsp;Appropriately, perhaps, the disposition of LB 126 was one of final actions of the Legislature in 2005.

To his credit, Senator Adrian Smith kept up the fight until the very end. ;nbsp;He filed an amendment to strike the enacting clause in order to have another opportunity to speak to his colleagues before they voted on passage of the bill.124 ;nbsp;Said Smith:

[T]o me, education is more than the four walls of a school building. ;nbsp;Education is about community support. ;nbsp;LB 126 destroys it, maybe not intentionally, but effectively it destroys community support. ;nbsp;The innovation that takes place, that's what we need more of in education is the innovation of community participants, of parents participating in the school programs. ;nbsp;LB 126 discourages it.125

Senator Smith withdrew his amendment. ;nbsp;By this time, of course, there were few undecided votes, as the final tally demonstrated.

Table 167. ;nbsp;Record Vote: ;nbsp;Passage of LB 126 (2005)

Voting in the affirmative, 35:
Aguilar Chambers Howard Landis Raikes
Baker Combs Janssen Mines Redfield
Beutler Cornett Jensen Pahls Schimek
Bourne Cunningham Johnson Pedersen Stuhr
Brashear Engel Kopplin Pederson Synowiecki
Brown Foley Kremer Preister Thompson
Byars Friend Kruse Price Wehrbein
;nbsp;
Voting in the negative, 12:
Burling Fischer Hudkins McDonald ;nbsp;
Cudaback Flood Langemeier Smith ;nbsp;
Erdman Heidemann Louden Stuthman ;nbsp;
;nbsp;
Present and not voting, 2:
Connealy Schrock ;nbsp; ;nbsp; ;nbsp;

Source: ;nbsp;Neb. Legis. Journal, 1 June 2005, 1865-66.

The appropriation bill (LB 126A) also passed on a 39-10 vote.126 ;nbsp;The votes seemed to indicate a good chance to override a veto, if necessary -- and it would be necessary. ;nbsp;The next day, June 2nd, Governor Heineman took action to veto both LB 126 and LB 126A. ;nbsp;In a communication to the Legislature, the Governor wrote:

Almost without exception in Nebraska's history, decisions regarding the mandatory merger or closure of our local school districts are permeated with strong emotion. ;nbsp;You and I have received immeasurable public input from both supporters and opponents of this significant legislation.

After having diligently reviewed the very detailed provisions of LB 126, I do not believe the bill achieves its original goals of improved efficiency and of an improved quality education that the students of our small schools receive. ;nbsp;The legislation now requires the expenditure of nearly three million dollars during the first three years to implement its provisions.

Furthermore, I firmly believe that the forced consolidation presented by the bill will, in the long run, alienate parents from their schools rather than involving them even more in the decisions affecting the management and structure of their children's public education. ;nbsp;Voluntary school district consolidation is already occurring without government intervention. ;nbsp;Voluntary consolidation imple-mented by local decision-making rather than a state mandate has a better opportunity of uniting communities.

I have visited several Class I school districts and I have been in many K-12 districts over the years. ;nbsp;Both are providing a quality education for Nebraska students.

I commend Senator Raikes and those who worked tirelessly to try to achieve a final legislative solution; however, the compromise proposed in LB 126 neither advances the cause of efficiency in school governance nor ensures a better quality of education for children who are educated in Class I and Class VI schools throughout Nebraska.127

On the same day that Governor Heineman vetoed the legislation, Senator Ron Raikes would file motions to override the vetoes.128;nbsp;The showdown was set for the 90th and last day of the 2005 Session.

"I'm asking you to join me in voting to override his veto so that this measure, which we the Legislature have worked so hard to develop over the past three years, can become law," Senator Raikes said in his opening remarks to the motions to override.129 ;nbsp;He disputed the Governor's knowledge of the issues given his stated reasons for vetoing the legislation. ;nbsp;"I'm going to assume the Governor simply doesn't know these facts," Raikes said, "If he did know them, I can't think he would endorse this arrangement and result."130;nbsp;He went on to say that if there were any chance that LB 126 would compromise the quality of education for students, he would not have introduced the proposal.

Senator Smith and other opponents rose in opposition to the motions and in support of the Governor's veto. ;nbsp;"We cannot afford, as policymakers, to alienate public education from the community," Smith said.131 ;nbsp;The Gering senator reiterated his belief that LB 126 offered no assurances of quality of educational opportunity and that local control would be seriously impeded. ;nbsp;Senator Deb Fischer drew upon the latest fiscal note released by the Fiscal Office to demonstrate that no substantial savings would occur due to LB 126. ;nbsp;She also asked her colleagues to seriously think about the impact on rural communities and residents. ;nbsp;"I ask that you consider the effects of this bill on the families across the entire state," she said.132

Senator Tom Baker of Trenton, a consistent supporter of LB 126, said the whole matter came down to the differences of outlooks between opponents and proponents. ;nbsp;"They look at this as a threat," Senator Baker said.133 ;nbsp;"I look at this as an opportunity," he said, "Big difference."134;nbsp;Senator Baker said he had received threatening phone calls from those who opposed the bill and wanted him to vote against it. ;nbsp;He said he also received encouraging letters and email from school board members and school administrators in support of the measure.

Appropriately, perhaps, the elected leader of the Legislature also spoke to the motions to override. ;nbsp;"In my 11 years of service in the Legislature, there were more people involved in these discussions and negotiations than any other matter I've ever done," said Speaker of the Legislature, Senator Kermit Brashear.135 ;nbsp;He indicated his pride in the process and those who participated in the long, arduous debate. ;nbsp;But nothing could erase or hide the fundamental emotions involved in this issue. ;nbsp;"This is a historically very difficult, difficult subject," Brashear said.136

Table 168. ;nbsp;Record Vote: ;nbsp;Motion to override veto of LB 126 (2005)

Voting in the affirmative, 32:
Aguilar Chambers Kopplin Pederson Stuhr
Baker Cornett Kremer Preister Synowiecki
Beutler Engel Kruse Price Thompson
Bourne Howard Landis Raikes Wehrbein
Brashear Janssen Mines Redfield ;nbsp;
Brown Jensen Pahls Schimek ;nbsp;
Byars Johnson Pedersen Schrock ;nbsp;
;nbsp;
Voting in the negative, 16:
Burling Erdman Friend Louden ;nbsp;
Connealy Fischer Heidemann McDonald ;nbsp;
Cudaback Flood Hudkins Smith ;nbsp;
Cunningham Foley Langemeier Stuthman ;nbsp;
;nbsp;
Present and not voting, 1:
Combs ;nbsp; ;nbsp; ;nbsp; ;nbsp;

Source: ;nbsp;Neb. Legis. Journal, 3 June 2005, 1912-13.

The override motion was successful with two votes to spare. ;nbsp;The motion to override the veto of LB 126A also passed on a 38-4 vote.137;nbsp;For the second time in 20 years, landmark legislation mandating school reorganization of Class I schools had become law. ;nbsp;The fight was no less contested, bitter, and controversial in 2005 than it was in 1985. ;nbsp;But the fight was far from over.

Within a week of the end of the 2005 Session, a group of citizens, the Nebraskans for Local Schools, had formed to give the electorate the last word, or so they hoped. ;nbsp;Mindful of the 1985-86 episode, the group believed it could make history rhyme with a second effort to repeal a reorganization law. ;nbsp;"If we find enough people, I think this will be successful," said George Lauby, a member of the citizen group.138;nbsp;But to be successful, the petition group would need 56,435 valid signatures by September 1, 2005, and double that figure to suspend the enforcement of the law until an election is held.

A testament to their organizational skills, the petition group gathered 87,006 signatures in total, including a very important signature and endorsement from the Governor of the State of Nebraska. ;nbsp;But the effort fell short of the required number to suspend the law until the people voted. ;nbsp;The issue would appear on the 2006 General Election ballot, but the enforcement of the law would continue unabated. ;nbsp;By the time of the election, much of the prescribed timeline for reorganization would be complete. ;nbsp;The petition supporters went to Plan B and filed an injunction against the State Committee on the Reorganization of Schools to prevent the committee from carrying out the duties prescribed under LB 126. ;nbsp;Governor Heineman supported the suspension of the law. ;nbsp;"That would be applying a little Nebraska common sense," he said.139

LB 126 brought to bear such issues as discrimination, school finance, accountability, curriculum, equity of teacher pay, equity and quality of educational opportunities, local choice, transportation issues, administrative costs, urban versus rural interests, etc. ;nbsp;It was an emotional fight for survival in the minds of some and a battle for progress in the minds of others. ;nbsp;In the end, whenever the end arrives, there will be no thought of winners or losers in this legislative contest, only a testament to the spirit of decency and dedication to the interests of children, their wellbeing, and future.

Table 169. ;nbsp;Summary of Modifications to TEEOSA
as per LB 126 (2005)

Click to view file

Source: ;nbsp;Legislative Bill 126, in Laws of Nebraska, Ninety-Ninth Legislature, First Session, 2005, Session Laws, comp. Patrick J. O'Donnell, Clerk of the Legislature (Lincoln, Nebr.: by authority of John Gale, Secretary of State), §§ 45-51, pp. 20-27 (247-54).


1 Co-sponsors included Senators Baker, Beutler, Engel, Janssen, Jensen, Mines, Price, and Redfield. ;nbsp;Co-sponsors from the Education Committee included Senators Bourne, Byars, and Stuhr. ;nbsp;Legislative Bill 126, Change provisions relating to school district reorganization, sponsored by Sen. Ron Raikes, Nebraska Legislature, 99th Leg., 1st Sess., 2005, title first read 6 January 2005.
2 LB 126 (2005), § 2, pp. 4-5.
3 LB 1048 (2004), § 2, pp. 4-5.
4 Neb. Rev. Stat. § 79-611(c) (Cum. Supp. 2003).
5 Id.
6 LB 806, Session Laws, 1997, § 28, p. 16 (1542); LB 710, Session Laws, 1997, § 4, p. 5 (1301). ;nbsp;LB 710 amended LB 806 to include the effective date of January 1, 1997.
7 LB 126 (2005), § 48, p. 74.
8 Id., § 44, pp. 68-69.
9 Nebraska Legislative Fiscal Office, Fiscal Impact Statement, LB 126 (2005), prepared by Sandy Sostad, Nebraska Legislature, 99th Leg., 1st Sess., 2005, 11 January 2005, 1.
10 Id.
11 Id., 7 February 2005, 1.
12 Legislative Records Historian, Floor Transcripts, LB 126 (2005), prepared by the Legislative Transcribers' Office, Nebraska Legislature, 99th Leg., 1st Sess., 2005, 10 February 2005, 764.
13 The primary function of the Legislative Fiscal Office is to assist the Legislature in analyzing state government financial and program issues. ;nbsp;The specific roles and responsibilities in meeting this objective are defined in statute, linking office functions to the responsibilities of the Legislature's Appropriations and Revenue Committees, and by the Rules of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature. ;nbsp;Neb. Rev. Stat. § 50-419 (Cum. Supp. 1992).
14 Committee on Education, Hearing Transcripts, LB 126 (2005), Nebraska Legislature, 99th Leg., 1st Sess., 2005, 18 January 2005, 66.
15 Id., 67. ;nbsp;While Senator Raikes referred to 230 Class I school districts, the Legislative Fiscal Office reported that 231 Class I school districts existed in the 2004-05 school year. ;nbsp;Fiscal Impact Statement, LB 126 (2005), 7 February 2005, 1.
16Hearing Transcripts, LB 126 (2005), 18 January 2005, 67.
17 Id., 69.
18 Id., 68.
19 Id.
20 Id., 70.
21 Id., 71.
22 Id.
23 Id., 72.
24 Id., 73.
25 Id., 73-74.
26 Id., 75-76.
27 Id., 77.
28 Id., 82.
29 Id., 90.
30 Id., 92.
31 Legislative Bill 467, Adopt the Creating Essential Educational Opportunities for All Students Act, sponsored by Sen. Dennis Byars, Nebraska Legislature, 99th Leg., 1st Sess., 2005, title first read 13 January 2005.
32Hearing Transcripts, LB 126 (2005), 18 January 2005, 108.
33 Id., 117.
34 Id., 118.
35 Id., 132.
36 Id.
37 Id., 136.
38 Id., 157.
39 Id., 162.
40 Id., 167.
41 Id., 168-69.
42 "School reorganization bill draws crowd to capitol," Unicameral Update, 15 February 1985, 10.
43Floor Transcripts, LB 126 (2005), 10 February 2005, 792.
44 Committee on Education, Executive Session Report, LB 126 (2005), Nebraska Legislature, 99th Leg., 1st Sess., 2005, 20 January 2005, 1.
45 Martha Stoddard, "School-merger proposal is on fast track: The plan, which would end elementary-only districts, is unlikely to be stalled again," Omaha World-Herald, 21 January 2005, 4B.
46 Id.
47 Rules of the Neb. Leg., Rule 7, § 10.
48 Martha Stoddard, "Centers of contention: The state's Class I schools fear that if LB 126 passes, mergers would sound their towns' death knells," Omaha World-Herald, 6 February 2005, 1A.
49 The Ord (Nebraska) Area Chamber of Commerce, Valley County Economic Development website lists Vinton Public School, a Class I district. ;nbsp;The caption beside the name of the school reads, "Vinton School strives to instill Christian values in the students as well as giving students basic academic instruction." ;nbsp;Ord (Nebraska) Area Chamber of Commerce, Valley County Economic Development, "Education: Elementary & Secondary Education," available from http://www.ordneusa.com/education.asp, Internet, accessed 22 February 2006.
50Floor Transcripts, LB 126 (2005), 10 February 2005, 758.
51 Id., 759.
52 Id., 763.
53 Id., 775.
54 Id., 765.
55 Id., 799.
56 Id., 782.
57 Id., 815.
58 Id.
59 Id., 11 February 2005, 834.
60 Neb. Legis. Journal, Hudkins AM0251, 11 February 2005, 491.
61Floor Transcripts, LB 126 (2005), 11 February 2005, 840.
62 Id., 835.
63 Id., 834.
64Hearing Transcripts, LB 126 (2005), 71.
65Floor Transcripts, LB 126 (2005), 11 February 2005, 863.
66 Id., 863-64.
67 Id., 845.
68 Id., 846.
69 Id., 10 February 2005, 777.
70 Id., 11 February 2005, 851.
71 Id., 854-55.
72 Id., 855.
73 Id., 867-68.
74 Id., 868.
75 Id., 870.
76 Id., 870-71.
77 Id., 893.
78 Id., 895.
79 Id., 14 February 2005, 942.
80 Id.
81 Id., 935.
82 Id.
83 Id., 899.
84 Id.
85 Id., 900.
86 Id., 899.
87 Id., 900.
88 Id.
89 Id., 918.
90 Id., 919.
91 Id.
92 Id., 932
93 Id.
94 Martha Stoddard, "Governor cautious on schools bill; Both sides of merger proposal appreciate his consideration," Omaha World-Herald, 15 February 2005, 1B.
95 Rules of the Neb. Leg., Rule 7, § 10.
96Floor Transcripts, LB 126 (2005), 15 February 2005, 964.
97 Id., 981.
98 Id.
99 Id.
100 Id., 982.
101 Id., 984.
102 Id., 985.
103 Id.
104 Neb. Legis. Journal, 15 February 2005, 519.
105 Martha Stoddard, "Grade schools block merger of high schools; A legislator who wants elementary-only districts eliminated says the vote in Gordon and Rushville illustrates his point," Omaha World-Herald, 10 March 2005, 1A.
106 Id.
107 JoAnne Young, "LPS rejects Cheney's school funding request," Lincoln Journal Star, 23 March 2005.
108 Id.
109 Martha Stoddard, "Sides hone legislation on school mergers," Omaha World-Herald, 9 April 2005, 1A.
110 Id.
111 Id.
112Floor Transcripts, LB 126 (2005), 19 May 2005, 6362.
113 Id., 6362-63.
114 Id., 6345.
115 Id., 6364.
116 Id., 20 May 2005, 6537.
117Fiscal Impact Statement, LB 126 (2005), 24 May 2005, 1-2.
118 Neb. Legis. Journal, Raikes AM1672, printed separate, 19 May 2005, 1679. ;nbsp;Amendment, Raikes AM1672 to LB 126 (2005), 3-4.
119Fiscal Impact Statement, LB 126 (2005), 24 May 2005, 1-2.
120Floor Transcripts, LB 126 (2005), 20 May 2005, 6554.
121 Id., 6563.
122 Martha Stoddard, "Schools bill advances after deal: The compromise would give elementary-only districts more protection before merging with K-12 districts," Omaha World-Herald, 21 May 2005, 1A.
123 Martha Stoddard, "Both sides in schools fight antsy; All eyes turn to Gov. Heineman, who is expected to announce Friday whether he will veto the district consolidation bill," Omaha World-Herald, 2 June 2005, 1A.
124 Neb. Legis. Journal, Smith FA322, 1 June 2005, 1864.
125Floor Transcripts, LB 126 (2005), 1 June 2005, 7387.
126 Neb. Legis. Journal, 1 June 2005, 1866.
127 Id., 2 June 2005, 1895-96.
128 Id., 1896.
129Floor Transcripts, LB 126 (2005), 3 June 2005, 7499.
130 Id., 7500.
131 Id., 7502.
132 Id., 7503
133 Id., 7506.
134 Id.
135 Id., 7508.
136 Id.
137 Neb. Legis. Journal, 3 June 2005, 1913.
138 Martha Stoddard, "'85 repeal inspires Class I backers; Their petition drive will target LB 12655,000 need to sign," Omaha World-Herald, 11 June 2005, 1A.
139 Martha Stoddard, "School merger foes get issue on 2006 ballot," Omaha World-Herald, 25 October 2005, 1B.

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