Transcript Prepared by the Clerk of the Legislature

Transcriber's office

Committee on Education LB 1219

February 9, 1998


Page 55


LB 1219


SENATOR SUTTLE:  Senator Bohlke.


SENATOR BOHLKE:  Senator Suttle and colleagues, for the record my name is Ardyce Bohlke introducing LB 1219.  As I was proceeding to the table, I saw Senator Dierks arriving in the hearing room and I know he's also going to testify.  He has made this his priority bill; and I became aware of the situation in his district.  Actually, the bill...  1 became aware of the situation on serving on a cabinet or a task force the Governor had on LB 806.  And, at that time, we were made aware, that committee, of an idea that a number of schools were looking to implement that would be called a unified system and a number of questions asking how they may or may not qualify for incentives and how we would able to work with them.  I think at that time, Senator Dierks will probably tell you, they contacted his office and he worked with them a great deal and then, as Senator Dierks' office and our office worked together, I appreciated the opportunity of introducing the bill because this is exactly the type of thing that last year we spent a great deal of time talking about that would show a creative way, I think, of a district, schools looking in their area of the state, that seems to meet the needs of those school districts; and going about it in a way that they would call a unified system.  A very simple way of explaining, I ...  it was ...  I said to people, it's like being engaged to get married.  And I think that's truly it.  We ...  we ...  the details of some of it, I'll let the superintendents speak to as they come


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forward, but it does provide that all state aid and property tax resources shall be shared in a board of at least one school board member from each school district, shall determine the General Fund levy to be applied in all participating districts and shall determine the distribution of state aid and property tax resources within the system.  The agreement shall also specify whether personnel will be employed by the individual districts or by the unified system.  There's one point, questions that have been raised, that we certainly want to address and that may help people who come in later who are looking to testify.  And that ...  because is currently reads, if the unified systems discontinues its status as a unified system, and here's the important word, and does not consolidate prior to the beginning of the eighth year of operating as a unified system, the districts in the unified system shall pay back the incentives.  Some schools were reading that that if they didn't consolidate, they have to pay back the incentives.  No, it say, if they discontinue its status as a unified system, and does not...  and does not consolidate.  So I mean, if they just simply want to go back to how they are prior to being unified, then they would have to pay back those incentive payments.  One of the other key issues seem to be for those districts that they felt it was important to get:  that incentive money in the first year.  We heard that in another bill earlier.  This committee has recognized the needs of schools for that first year; and so, for unification, what it does is 100 percent of the amount calculated shall be included in the distribution of state aid in the base fiscal year; 75 percent for the second year; and 50 percent for the third year.  And so, I think that points out the basic ideas in the bill, we do have some people from those participating districts, I think ready to testify and explain to you why they think that this works better for them and the direction that they want to go in their area of the state and, actually, this was an idea that I think I had heard one somewhat similar that took place in Kansas in a number of school districts, also.  And so, I look forward to the discussion and working with the committee and thank Senator Dierks for prioritizing it and know that he wishes, probably to get, after I'll answer questions, probably get back to his committee.  And held have an opportunity to testify.


SENATOR SUTTLE:  Are there any questions for Senator Bohlke?


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Senator Raikes.


SENATOR RAIKES:  Three.  One, is this ...  is this, as you see it right now, as you look out in the state, there's one group that may be interested in this arrangement?  Do you know of other groups?  Number two, this is, in fact, a preconsolidation step?  And number three, if the answer to the second one is, yes, what would be the advantages of this over proceeding immediately to consolidation?


SENATOR BOHLKE:  One, when I asked the question, is this the only area of the state looking at it?  I've heard that...  and they will tell you, I think they've had calls from a number of other areas.  They wanted to make sure that this would work as far as the incentive payments, before they would move in the direction of doing ...  going to a unified system.  You may have read there are a number of districts who are talking about interlocal agreements but when they...  this would actually allow them to get some of the incentive payments.  So I think there are schools who will be watching this very closely.  'Two, it does not mean that they have to consolidate.  At the end of that eight years, they could agree to just go on again as a unified system.  So ...  but at that time, it may look to them that they want to move to a consolidated.


SENATOR RAIKES:  So then, the answer to the third one would be that it is more flexible.  It allows more flexibility than immediate consolidation?


SENATOR BOHLKE:  Yes.  I ...  I believe it does and, like I said, I think the people who will be testifying will be able to tell you why.  I think it allows some of that identity in those towns in keeping with their school but beginning to look at sharing certain expenses and programs, doing some of the administrative costs but still allowing them to have their, you know, physical school building.




SENATOR SUTTLE:  Any other questions?  Senator Willhoft.


SENATOR WILLHOFT:  Just what...  one more time so I have it clear.  They could go on as a unified district forever and not have to pay anything back?  Or they could consolidate


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and not have to pay anything back, right?  Is that ...


SENATOR BOHLKE:  Correct.  The only time they would have to pay anything back, is if they...


SENATOR WILLHOFT:  If they decided to separate and ...


SENATOR BOHLKE:  ...  come back to the point they are ...


SENATOR WILLHOFT:  ...  go on a different way.


SENATOR BOHLKE:  ...  today and would not do either one of those scenarios.


SENATOR SUTTLE:  Senator Dierks.


SENATOR SUTTLE:  While Senator Dierks is coming up, are all those interested parties up here on the front row?  Whether they are opposed or for the measure?  Okey-dokey.  Just please indicate whether you are for, against, or neutral.  Sir.


(AUDIENCE):  Are we supposed to do that before?


SENATOR SUTTLE:  Oh, I ...  when you come up.


(AUDIENCE):  Oh, I see.


SENATOR SUTTLE:  Senator Dierks.


SENATOR DIERKS:  Thank you, Senator Suttle, Senator Bohlke, and members of the committee.  I'm Senator Cap Dierks from the 40th Legislative District.  I came to just add a little support to LB 1219.  1 have designated that as my priority bill.  This ...  this whole thing came about as a result of conversations we've had out in my legislative district with four Class II schools.  I believe they are, there might be a Class III in there but they're all K-12 schools.  They have a ...  they have a need for looking at some way to provide for their identity, that it continues as an identity.  They look on what we call the super district or now we're calling it a unified district.  A unified district will allow these four different schools to form one system.  And that system then would have a student body in the neighborhood of 900 students.  I think...and I'll let one of them tell you


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what the valuation might be but it would increase the valuation quite a little bit.  It provides them, I think, with some assurances that they can continue to function within the system as they are today.  I have to...  and I'd also like to thank Senator Bohlke for her support in this issue and Tammy's support in getting the bill drafted.  We've spent a lot of time in discussion with this.  I think that I've been to several meetings with these superintendents of those four schools and with school board members in those four schools.  We have met at one time last summer.  Tammy Barry was out and met with us.  The Governor flew out to Norfolk and visited with us about it.  So did Doug Christensen, the director of the Department of Education.  We had excellent communications all throughout this whole process.  The citizens, right now, are being informed and asked to come to public meetings to discuss how they feel about it.  I think everything has been open and above board.  We see this as an opportunity and I would urge your support to allow this to happen this year.  We really need the interlocal agreements to.  make this process work and that's what this bill does, it provides interlocal agreements for these four school...four schools to form this system, this unified system.  I think you will hear from most of the superintendents how the thing is going to work, the physical makeup, where the boards are going to come ...  the board members are going to come from, the way that they have structured the thing, and I think that I probably won't take any more of your time.  There is one thing I think that I should mention to you.  The ...  there'll be a testifier here in a little bit from the NSEA that has found opportunity to support the bill and they are going to offer a few amendments to it that, at this point, I have no problems with.  And I just would ...  with that, stop, and let you ask questions if you have them.


SENATOR SUTTLE:  Anyone have any questions, from the committee?  I have one, Senator Dierks.  What ...  what prevents you from having an interlocal governmental agreement now, without this legislation?


SENATOR DIERKS:  Well, I'll have to refer you to the legal counsel for the committee because this is where we came up with the need for this particular bill.  Evidently, all the language wasn't in place for an interlocal agreement, and this puts it in place; and I can't tell you the legal


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aspects of it but I think that Tammy helped us put that together.


SENATOR SUTTLE:  Okay.  Any other questions?  I Bee none.


SENATOR DIERKS:  Thank you very much.


SENATOR SUTTLE:  Thank you very much, Senator Dierks.


SENATOR DIERKS:  I wish it was as easy now, Senator Bohlke, to go back my to my other committee, but the next bill up is mine so I have to stay here for that, too.


AL SCHLUETER:  For the record, my name is Al Schlueter.  I'm Superintendent at orchard Public Schools.  I represent orchard Public Schools and a group of schools including Ewing, Elgin, and Clearwater.  I also represent the legislative committee of the Nebraska Rural Community Schools Association.  We are here to testify in favor of LB 1219.  We believe the intent of the bill is to allow schools, such our four districts, to unify under one central administrative district and still allow our districts to maintain their present facilities and K-12 status.  We would have one board of education representing all four districts, one single unified board.  One of the handouts includes a map of the proposed district.  (Exhibits H, H+) The district would encompass approximately 700 square miles and have about 800 to 850 students attending the four community centers.  One of the questions that was asked a little bit ago is what the valuation would be.  We're talking districts that go from $46 million, approximately to $115 million, out of the four and it would be a total of about, I believe, $283 million, somewhere in there, $290 million.  The unified district would use existing facilities rather than taxing our patrons for additional attendance centers somewhere in the middle of the district.  Legislative Bill 1219 would give us the opportunity to unify rather than merge.  A unification plan in small communities would be much more acceptable than a merger at this point.  This plan would also put us in the position of not destroying main street rural Nebraska.  Unification would allow us to have a single transportation system, use our teaching staffs more and tax levy throughout the district, and use our technology systems, such as our distance learning program, to provide additional education


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opportunities for our children.  This is an effort to look towards the future.  We know things are going to change.  We want to, in part, help plan our own destiny as school districts and communities.  Last, but most important, are the children of the proposed districts.  Along with receiving additional educational opportunities, our students will be able to continue with the strong family and community ties that already exist.  Unification is a positive first step.  There will be four others testifying right behind me here.  We're going to take each a different aspect of this.  We represent not only superintendents but also boards of education members and teachers.  Are there.  any questions?


SENATOR SUTTLE:  Thank you very much.  Questions?  Senator Raikes.


SENATOR RAIKES:  One question.  You mentioned that you would use existing facilities rather than build new ones.  Would you be precluded from building new facilities., say you....




SENATOR RAIKES:  ...  decided to?




SENATOR RAIKES:  It's not impossible?


AL SCHLUETER:  Well, no, we would not be precluded from building new facilities if we wished.  But the way we would like to write it into our unified proposal is that we would still keep our original lines as far as our districts were concerned; and if somebody needed new facilities down the road, it would be up to those people in the original district to determine whether or not they built new buildings.  'But, right at this point, and I don't see any real reason to have any major building proposals in the next, quite a number of years.  Most of us have either ...  most of ...  all of our buildings are in very good shape.


SENATOR RAIKES:  Okay.  But ...  but you indicate then that you're not going to take a joint or unified approach to facility decisions?


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AL SCHLUETER:  That's correct.


SENATOR RAIKES:  Okay.  Thank you.


SENATOR SUTTLE:  Any other questions?  If not, thank you.  Thank you very much.


CATHY COOPER:  Senator Suttle, and Senators of the committee, I'm Cathy Cooper, the secondary English educator at Orchard Public Schools.  I'm here to express my support and the support of my fellow educators in the four districts involved in this unification for LB 1219.  You may have heard of Nike's most recent slogan, I can.  I'd like to borrow this slogan because I feel that with a few minor changes, it applies to the feelings of our teachers toward unification.  We can.  Just as our board members and superintendents have been working on this plan toward unification, we can, also.  I wouldn't be here today if I didn't believe that the unification plan is in.  the best interests of the students of Clearwater, Elgin, Ewing, and Orchard.  By joining together, we can continue to provide the quality education that already exists at each of our small schools involved; yet we can also provide even more opportunities for our students.  First of all, we can continue to maintain relatively small class sizes with low student-per-teacher ratios.  This allows for more one-onone learning opportunities so that we as teachers can better assess and meet the needs of our students.  Secondly, we can better utilize our teachers' abilities by allowing them to specialize within their area.  By focusing our expertise on one aspect of our teaching, we can enhance student learning.  Also, we see unification as a way we can expand our curriculum by utilizing our distance learning network and sharing programs between each of our four locals.  Finally, we feel that with our smaller numbers, we can continue to provide a high level of participation in a variety of extracurricular activities so that our students are receiving a well-rounded education both in and out of the classroom.  I The collective efforts of our boards, superintendents, and teachers will culminate in what's best for students, a quality education.  As teachers, we will not only be collaborating on curriculum, but also in forming a collective bargaining unit to develop a master contract that will provide equitable compensation for the unified staff.


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Because we have worked together as professional in the past toward common goals, I believe that we can make this work, also.  In conclusion, the teachers of our four districts involved overwhelmingly support LB 1219; and, if given the opportunity to form a unified district, we can.  (Exhibit I)


SENATOR SUTTLE:  Thank you very much.


CATHY COOPER:  Thank you.


SENATOR SUTTLE:  Any questions?  Senator Stuhr.


SENATOR STUHR:  Yes, I was just wondering, are you planning then to travel from school to school or it was also mentioned, distance learning.


CATHY COOPER:  There's a possibly that travel may be a part of it.  With our distance learning facility through, we're hoping that we can utilize perhaps more.


SENATOR STUHR:  Do all four of the schools have the distance learning capability?


CATHY COOPER:  Yes, and we're all hooked up to ...  with one another.


SENATOR STUHR:  Okay.  Thank you.


SENATOR SUTTLE:  Senator Willhoft.


SENATOR WILLHOFT:  It's probably the wrong person to ask this question.  I should have asked it earlier but I heard that the building would not be unified, the building needs would not be unified, and my question then, would the curriculum, would it be unified?  Or is it kept separate by each different unit?


AL SCHLUETER:  It Will start out separately but our principals are already...


SENATOR SUTTLE:  You need to identify yourself.


AL SCHLUETER:  I'm Al Schlueter, Superintendent of orchard Public Schools.


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SENATOR SUTTLE:  Come up and talk into the microphone.


AL SCHLUETER:  I'm sorry.  I'm Al Schlueter.  I'm Superintendent of Orchard Public Schools.  Our curriculums may be different from the beginning and part of them ...  part of it may be different throughout the whole scenario, I don't know.  But we will be a site-base managed school and our principals are already working together, talking about how our curriculums will look.  It doesn't necessarily mean that they're all going to have to be exactly alike but it does mean that there's going to be a lot of conversation between the school districts to make sure that we're meeting the standards that are set for our schools.  Thank you.


SENATOR SUTTLE:  Thank you very much.  Senator Stuhr.  Wait a minute.


SENATOR STUHR:  Yes, I do have a question for you, Superintendent.  Do you see that the administration will stay the same then or are you talking about one superintendent for all four schools...or have you looked into that area?


AL SCHLUETER:  Yes, we've talked -about that.  The administration would stay the same for the first two years.  One reason is to give each school district at least a person that they feel comfortable with contacting right from the beginning and the other part is that two of those superintendents are going to automatically retire within two years, also.  But that isn't the main reason for it.  We feel that it's very important that, when we get together to begin with, that we're able to talk about all the kinds of problems and all the kinds of scenarios that we're going to have to talk about within our individual school districts so that we can bring these together, whether it's in transportation or whether it's in curriculum or whether it's in budget needs, whatever it may be.  So, yes, the four superintendents will be there in the beginning; but, no, the ,four superintendents aren't intended on being there within our three-to-five-year plan.


SENATOR SUTTLE:  Thank you, both of you.


MARK McGUIRE:  Thank you, Senator Bohlke, members of the committee, my name is Mark McGuire, attorney and lobbyist


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for the Nebraska State Education Association.  First of all, I want to commend the sponsors of this bill, Senators Bohlke, Dierks, Stuhr, and Suttle for really coming up with something that's innovative and creative, and I think presents a great amount of opportunity.  The teacher who just testified before me conveyed her appreciation and I had been specifically asked by the teachers in Ewing, Clearwater, Elgin, and Orchard to thank all of you and Senator Dierks, in particular, for the assistance he's shown those folks.  I even ...  the name, unified systems, 15 ...  conveys such a positive thing and this is a positive bill and I'm aware of these four communities have been discussing this.  There are others who have and one of the beauties about this is nobody's put in some kind of straight jacket, you can be creative in what works for you, can then become the beginning of a unified system agreement.  Senator Dierks mentioned that we had proposed some amendments, or would offer for your consideration some amendments which I do have and shared with him and Senator Bohlke this morning.  (Exhibit J) And I don't want to get into a real long technical thing here, with counsel I could discuss these later; but the idea is if one looks at the beginning of the bill.  The previous statutes about reorganized school districts, for the first couple of pages, apply in terms of the statutory provisions pertaining to the collective bargaining agreements and so forth.  I was looking at page 3 of the bill, for example, with reference made to (Section) 79-852, which basically says when there's a reorganization, as broadly used as that word is statutorily, the collective bargaining agreement of the biggest school becomes the agreement for the new System.  And, obviously, the idea here is to plug this unified system into scheme.  That scheme, if you will, is a product of LB 375, in 1978, that I wrote, and so basically it's been in effect for 20 years and we haven't seen any problems with that.  So, therefore, that leads to the suggested amendment that the unified system be deemed to be the employer because of the negotiated-or collective bargaining agreement for the larger entity within the engagement is to continue, there ought to be an individual, or, one employer, and so that's the first suggestion.  Consistent with that, the second suggested amendment is a clear delineation of...  that the certificated personnel be the employees of the system, particularly when you start looking at everybody's going to be working off the same master contract.  It only makes sense that they're employees


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of the one system in terms of its management.  The final suggestion addresses something that I think was sort of left out.  The bill, as written, provides that if the ...  and I'll continue with the metaphors, the engagement doesn't work out, and everybody goes back to from whence they came, the teachers go back there.  Presumably during the course ...  maybe this is not such a good metaphor any more, during the course of that engagement, we developed new dependents, shall we say, in other words, newly hired teachers, I simply provide they would be subject to the reduction-in-force policy of the unified system.  They're going to be terminated because the system...  that system doesn't exist any more and the original hirers would go back to their originating school district.  Those were the only suggestions I had.  I raised with both Senator Dierks and Senator Bohlke this morning, a question, and that is, why doesn't this have the emergency clause because I think it's such a good bill, it ought to get out there sooner and maybe there's some real good reasons for that.  As a final note, in...  in visiting with the teachers up there about why they like this, I was told the following:  Because this bill allows the establishment of an efficient, quality educational system at the local level.  And I think that's a good description of what this bill accomplishes and what these folks behind me have been working hard to put together and so we support it with the amendments I'm suggested.  I'll let them tell you about what they're really doing.  I'd be happy to respond to any questions.


SENATOR SUTTLE:  Are there any questions?  I see none.  Thank you, sir.


MARK McGUIRE:  Thank you.


STEVEN HANKLA:  My name is Steven Hankla of Clearwater, a businessman there and also a school board member.  I am for this bill.  I'm an owner of a mechanic shop and also serve on the Clearwater Chamber of Commerce.  A community our size, as well as those of Elgin, Ewing, and Orchard, we all depend on the income of the school district more than a person realizes.  I'm here today to speak to you on behalf of the school district's patrons of School District #6 of Antelope County, specifically, Clearwater Public Schools.  As you are aware, the schools of Elgin, Ewing, Orchard, and Clearwater are currently endeavoring to form a unified


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school district.  I'm here to seek your support for this measure.  The concept of unification is a way to maintain the viability of our current district and to ensure our communities and the schools to remain partners in the quality education of our children.  I would like to address several issues ...  different issues consisting of economics, cooperation, support, and pride that is so important for our schools and our communities.  The first being economics.  What would happen if the school's hot lunch program no longer ordered through their local grocery or the school bus fleet were not longer fueled through the local gas supplies, or the bank no longer handled the school district's various accounts.  These are just a few of the businesses which would be burdened economically if our schools were to close.  The school is the backbone of our communities.  The community of Clearwater is proud of the fact that they are able to furnish quality education for their children in a newer school facility.  I'm sure I can speak for the communities of Elgin, Ewing, and Orchard as well.  School spirit tells a great deal about the pride of a community.  We would hate to lose that pride and I'm sorry to say that closing our schools would do that in each of our small towns as well as the community's local control in our school system.  Local control could be maintained if we were allowed the opportunity of unifying our four schools into one school district.  The fact that each community would be able to still have its existing buildings, existing teachers, and existing programs is pertinent to the existence of our towns.  Many of you have grown up in rural communities and understand it is for local business people and schools to work together in a time of need.  I would like to urge you, as elected officials, to support LB 1289 (sic) so we can continue the process of unifying our four school districts for the survival of our schools and our towns.  Thank you for your time and the interest in our education of our children.


SENATOR SUTTLE:  Thank you.  Do you have any questions?  I see none.  Thank you very much for coming.


BETH SCHUETH:  Hi.  I'm Beth Schueth, parent and school board member from Ewing Public Schools and I support LB 1219 because I think it will preserve the quality.  of education of our children that we're receiving right now.  With the passage of LB 1219, we can continue to provide our children


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with pride, high self esteem, community involvement, and responsibility.  our children have a much better chance to participate in extracurricular activities that in larger schools they would never experience.  It is a fact that kids involved in school activities are much less likely to ever become in a gang or other urban problems that we don't have to worry about in our community now.  Our dropout rate is next to zero thanks to a good teacher-student ratio, a caring community, and family involvement.  Families are very important in our community and we value all the time that we can get with our children.  If we have to send our kids to another town for school, we would have to replace valuable family time with more windshield time.  As parents, we .already worry when our kids have to drive 10 to 20 miles one way to school.  Please don't make that into a 30 to 50 mile drive.  I have a senior this year and I'm very proud of how he's turned into a responsible citizen concerned with today's problems and eager to try to do his part to help solve them.  A large part of this has developed from his school environment and the college he wants to enroll has a similar environment.  Both are schools that have a high rate of success stories.  I only hope that with the passage of LB 1219, my seventh and ninth grade children also have the same opportunities that my oldest son has experienced.  Please vote yes for LB 1219.  (Exhibits K and K+)


SENATOR SUTTLE:  Thank you very much.  Any questions?  I see none.  Thank you so much.


DWAINE UTTECHT:  My name is Dwaine Uttecht.  I'm the superintendent of Elgin Public Schools.  I represent the Elgin Public Schools and the other members of our group, Clearwater, Ewing, and Orchard and I am here to testify in favor of LB 1219.  We believe that we currently provide good quality education for the students in our district.  The passage of LB 1219 will allow the four schools of Clearwater, Elgin, Ewing, and Orchard to unify into one district so that our schools may work together to continue providing the quality of education that our children deserve.  By unifying these schools, it will be possible to provide this education more efficiently and effectively.  We know that in order to maintain the quality of education that is currently being provided that we have to change.  In looking to the future, the status quo will not be sufficient for our education.  We would like to be proactive in


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creating a district that will provide the quality of education we expect in the most efficient manner without destroying the communities in which we live.  Legislative bill 1219 will allow the district to utilize current personnel and resources more efficiently.  The unification will allow for the use of the existing facilities and does not create the need for new buildings.  It will encourage cooperation, not only in the education arena, but also among the communities in which we live.  We have excellent teachers in our schools that care about kids.  We have adequate facilities to provide an appropriate environment for our students and we have current technology in our schools that will not only provide ...  that not only provides connectivity between the schools in our group but also with higher education.  Unification would allow us to use these resources in a cooperative and efficient manner to provide a good quality education that our students deserve.  This can be done without the loss of local control which is dear to the parents and patrons of our districts.  Legislative Bill 1219 will provide the opportunity to create a unified district that would be good for the kids of our district.  (Exhibit L)


SENATOR SUTTLE:  Thank you, Mr. Uttecht.  Is there any question?  I see none.  Thank you very much.


DOUG CHRISTENSEN:  Senator Suttle, members of the committee, I ...  for the record, I'm Doug Christensen, Commissioner of Education.  I'm here to give my full support to this legislation that allows these schools to do what they want to do.  We need this model out there so that other schools can see how we can this and how we can do it right.  These four schools have four forward-looking superintendents.  The four schools have four community-focused and forward-looking boards of education.  And the teachers, because I've had the opportunity to work in the Orchard schools for the past four years, if the other teachers in the other schools are as dedicated and competent as they are in Orchard, and I have every reason to believe they are, they will make this work for the kids.  What these schools will accomplish in the unification process is, one, efficiency, and obviously that's been on your agenda for some time, they.  will behave as a single district although they'll be able to keep the identity they have as a school community.  And, as you can see by the testimony, that's very important.  To make


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unification work, the three issues of unification are, unifying on the concept of governance, unifying on the concept of finance, and unifying on the concept of curriculum.  And you can see they've accomplished the issue of governance and finance and the curriculum will be an evolving unification process.  The other matters they can unify on, those as they see fit, such as buildings or those kinds of things; but the three things that make it work are governance, finance, and curriculum.  I think they've also achieved a sense of self determination in their future- and to us, as Nebraskans, that's very important; and to these four communities, it's vitally important.  They will get flexibility as a result of being able to pool their resources, their people, their money, the time involved, and we think that's important.  They will be able to expand curriculum options and as we've talked to the districts, that's certainly on their agenda, to make sure their kids have a quality education and can expand those opportunities through the unification and then through the distance learning technologies that they have.  They will have a base organization that will permit them to attract others to join them.  And they've already been contacted by other districts that want to be part of their initial unification and I think the position they've taken is, that they will get these four together and then entertain others who may want to join them.  And again, they will unify themselves on those three critical issues of governance, resources, and curriculum.  Other schools are watching this.  We have, personally, at the Department of Education, been out to four different regional areas to talk to schools about this concept and to try to explain to them what it is and have encouraged them to contact the four schools that are mentioned here to see some of the issues that are being discussed.  We have talked to numerous other boards of education groups, administrative groups, and teacher groups about this same concept, getting a very favorable response.  So once this particular union takes off, I would think that you will see a domino effect that others will look at it seriously.  However, they need the incentives provided to make this happen.  If you ...  we will provide these incentives for consolidations of school districts, we should provide them in this one for the unification because it will accomplish everything that consolidation will accomplish and maybe even more.  We urge you to pass 1219 to the floor.  We support the leadership of these districts and hope that you


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will do it as well so that they can make this possible for their future.  I also have with me, Russ Inbody, our Director of Finance.  If there are technical question& on finance issues, either one of us would be glad to respond.


SENATOR SUTTLE:  Senator Raikes.


SENATOR RAIKES:  Thanks.  A couple of questions.  Comparing unification to consolidation, as far the reorganization aid or incentives, can you compare those for me?  Are they exactly the same?  Or are there some differences?


DOUG CHRISTENSEN:  I'm not sure.  Russ, do you want to try to answer that?  If not, Tammy drafted it.


RUSS INBODY:  The difference is in a pure reorganization, they're going to get the three years of money up front but the base is the same.  It's the consolidation of the number of students and then what happens in the unification, they get 100 percent of that money that's due them the first year, 75 percent the second year, and then 50 percent the third year.  And that's the major difference.


SENATOR RAIKES:  So, they wouldn't ...  they wouldn't ...  okay, the first year they would get as much as if they consolidated.  The second year and third years they would not.  Although there...  I know this is a statement here that if a unified system consolidates, the consolidated district would be eligible to receive an additional 75 percent.  Now is that to make up for the ...  what they didn't get the second and third years?






RUSS INBODY:  That's correct.


SENATOR RAIKES:  One other questions.  You mentioned that this would accomplish everything that you would get done with consolidation and maybe more ...  well, or...  or ...  yeah, I don't...  everything you'd get done is probably not a good phrase.  One particular thing, I'm interested though, is...  is consolidating...  consolidated planning for facility decisions.  Presumably, in a consolidation, there would be


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one unit that would plan for a facility decision.  This would...would allow that but not require it.




SENATOR RAIKES:  Can you comment on that a little bit?


RUSS INBODY:  Yeah, I think that's a ...  you know, one of the things that tends to cause consolidations to fall apart.  They get very political as to the building of a building and where that building is going to be placed and I think the good news of this is, you don't have to talk about that right off the bat.  I think that it would be a mistake for the unified school district to not think about the facility's implications about the road.  But what I think Superintendent Schlueter was talking about was, at least for the time being, they're each making a commitment to keep their current facilities up to date, but at the time they begin to think about any expansion, if this unification has been successful, my guess is they would be talking about that from a unified point of view.  In other words, one of the districts may decide to build some highly specialized facilities like a vocational agriculture shop and another one might decide to do something in another specialized area, as opposed to duplicating that all the way across.  Eventually, I think they have to come together on that, but in this particular one, and Most of them for whom unification is going to be attractive, they don't have to start out talking about facilities which means a bond election and means a bond levy and that usually capsizes most of those.  We have a ...  we have one really successful...  I wouldn't say one.  We have one that is probably the premier successful reorganization in the state, but it's taken it 15 to 20 years to get to its current status where it has actually turned out to revitalize the communities of which it's a part, and that's the Sandy Creek Schools.  And one of the things that almost capsized that in the beginning was the placement of that school out in the middle of a cornfield.  But, thank goodness, they got it done.  Now, those were districts that had gone so long and gotten so small that they didn't have many choices.  And what these districts are saying is, let us make our own decision about our future while we still have the resources to do it and do it well, and we totally agree with that.


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SENATOR SUTTLE:  Senator Stuhr.


SENATOR STUHR:  Yes, even though I'm a cosponsor of the bill, I still have some questions about.  This ...  these four districts look as if they are neighboring to each other.  Is it possible to unify a district that might be here and then 20 or 40 miles away with several school districts in between?


DOUG CHRISTENSEN:  Well, that's possible but I certainly ...  that would not be something we would encourage because, I think the issue is, is that there has to be communication among the districts and while with technology you'd want the traveling of students or teachers to be minimum.  You'd still want to make that possible and, I mean if you could do that 40 miles away, why couldn't you do it 400 miles away and someone might want to unify with Hawaii and I think we'd be nervous about that.  (laughter)


SENATOR SUTTLE:  Senator Willhoft.


SENATOR WILLHOFT:  Dr.  Christensen, looking at this, you know, it sounds like, would this be the answer or part of the answer, if they were willing, or say Sandy Creek along with Harvard and Clay Center to unify in some manner, to help them with the dilemma that they're looking at?


DOUG CHRISTENSEN:  I'm not sure if Sandy Creek is classified ...  sure, it would, it would permit that.  Yeah, any school district that currently is a district could do unification through the interlocal statute.  While this does not ...  what?


RUSS INBODY:  Two or three ...


DOUG CHRISTENSEN:  While this does not apply to Class IV, V, and VI's, or at this point in time, the interlocal, it still exists for anything you can do individually, you can do collectively.  So, technically, Bellevue and Omaha OPS could form an interlocal to do special education, to do technology.  This would not give them those incentives though because they're not part of this hill.  But, technically, the interlocal statutes that already exist can


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be used by any district to combine, to do things that they can do by themselves.


SENATOR WILLHOFT:  In the case of Sandy Creek, Clay Center, and Harvard, the incentive and everything would be there?  Or, is that what you're saying?


DOUG CHRISTENSEN:  It appears to me, in the legislation, that would be the case.






SENATOR SUTTLE:  Any other questions?  Seeing none, thank you, sir.




SENATOR SUTTLE:  How many more wish to testify on this bill after he gets done?  D'Anne?  Go ahead.


JOHN RECKNOR:  Senator Bohlke, members of the committee, my name is John Recknor, I am a lawyer and I primarily limit my practice to the area of school law and I am the legal counsel that's working on this four-way interlocal agreement that you've heard about it this afternoon.  And I guess I would say, what a difference a year makes.  A year ago Ewing and Clearwater were in court fighting over a Class I that was merging and one of the board members was very prophetic when he said, you know, this is silly.  We can't do business this way up here along this highway.  We've got to look at each other as neighbors and allies.  And then, one short year later, these school districts have taken in other partners with whom they're working and I think it's truly good use of our limited resources in the area of public education.  But I would like to also speak with you a little bit about this concept on a broader basis.  I am currently involved with talks of interlocal agreements in Webster County and Nuckolls County, and Hamilton County, and Fillmore County, and I hope you will not take offense when I tell you that the work product of the Legislature is not always received with enthusiasm in rural Nebraska but this is truly being received with enthusiasm.  Senator Raikes asked a couple of very excellent questions.  Well, why do we


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need to have a new interlocal agreement arrangement if we've already got it?  I've have lawyer to lawyer talks with Senator Wickersham.  He was a law school classmate of mine; and I said my one concern, as a lawyer is, we don't know exactly what a joint entity is because we've never really defined its characteristics and we know what a corporation is, we know what a limited liability partnership is, and so on.  And so I think this goes a long ways toward helping to clarify, particularly when we're talking about the kinds of undertakings, efforts, and expenditures that we're involved with with four school districts of this magnitude.  So, I think it is beneficial to help clarify the role of the super board and how a super district would be run.  Another question that was raised.  Well, how is this really better or different from consolidation?  It probably will not surprise too many of you that it's probably part of our pioneer heritage that we don't trust people if they live over ten miles away.  And I worked with an interlocal cooperation act agreement with Eustis and Farnam, Nebraska, for a period Of seven years until they finally decided that people in Eustis *and Farnam really were substantially dissimilar and now they have merged.  My wife's from New York and I get a big kick out it when people tell me, well, it's them city people, them city people.  And I'm saying, by my standards, there are no cities in this state.  And really, we have communities of interest that involve farming and ranching and the small town and so on, and it's time we start thinking about that in terms of the partnerships that a 1219 can bring.  So I think it's outstanding legislation.  As Commissioner Christensen said, one of the things that nearly does bring a district to its knees, is fighting immediately about where the school's going to be located.  I was there when the Sandy Creek wars were going on and it was ugly.  It was very nasty and the district was thwarted for some period of time all over a fairly commonsensical question about where we ought to put the school house.  One of the things I think that raises a level of suspicion amongst people is, rather than looking at a 1219 which is sort of a marriage contract or a covenant to marry, as opposed to a reorganization which is more like a last will and testament.  The people, as participants in this process, can make adjustments, as life goes on for them, in cooperation.  And the reason for that is, is there's always an exit strategy.  Now granted, it will cost, but there's something in our psyches, I guess, about saying, but if


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you're really nasty to me, I always can take my marbles and leave.  That's not possible with reorganization.  What I would surmise would happen, based upon my having put together many, many reorganizations, some with some growing pangs in the early years and some very successful, is that this will grant a good deal more success in allowing people to work together and make those adjustments that need to be made.  And as Commission Christensen said, let's not put the facilities as the first line of fight when we're out there trying to figure out how to preserve our money, share administration and do what makes sense for our three, four, seven, possibly ten communities.  But I will certainly congratulate the committee for its fine work.  I want to thank Ms.  Barry, particularly, for her kind assistance and cooperation in working with this.  Mark McGuire and I have agreed on only two things in the last 20 years and this is one of them.  (laughter) And so, I think this is a truly fine piece of work and I wholeheartedly would support it.


SENATOR SUTTLE:  Thank you., I can remember last year during the 806, Senator Dierks was very concerned about this and very concerned, and I am glad we have come up with something that the lawyers actually agree on.


JOHN RECKNOR:  It's first class.


SENATOR SUTTLE:  It is.  Senator Willhoft.


SENATOR WILLHOFT:  It seems like I'm asking a lot of questions but beings you are a school law lawyer, how...  I don't know if it's in here or not, but how does ...  would it affect an option student, say one's in Orchard and one goes to Clearwater or one of the other schools?


JOHN RECKNOR:  Well, the way I would foresee that happening and I may not be correct on this, because the present districts that would go into the coop still exist, that would probably be one of the few things that the underlying district would have an ability to take care of so you could have somebody coming from Inman wanting to come into Ewing.  That would be dealt with by the Ewing board.  Once they're in, they'd be dealt with as if they were a resident student of the super district or unified district, as they call it.


SENATOR WILLHOFT:  It wouldn't be an issue because of the


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tax because they're all under the same tax base...


JOHN RECKNOR:  That's correct.


SENATOR WILLHOFT:  ...  but it would just be a facility limitation or something that would create a problem there, or it could.


JOHN RECKNOR:  That's correct.




SENATOR SUTTLE:  Any other questions?


SENATOR BOHLKE:  Normally, I make no comments on a bill I've introduced, but any time I have two attorneys agreeing and three here who are absent, probably agreeing, that's the only thing on this bill that might make me a tiny bit nervous.  (laughter)


SENATOR SUTTLE:  Or either that, or we're in Nirvana and we get a note.




SENATOR SUTTLE:  Thank you very much.


JOHN RECKNOR:  Thank you.


D'ANNE WELCH:  My name is D'Anne Welch and I'm testifying in the neutral position.  I don't care whether schools consolidate or unify, you know, whatever is best for the local population.  We have a very specific population in Omaha that has highly specific needs and ever since 1995, the State Legislature has been promising to address their needs and so far we haven't had their needs addressed.  I did want to testify in the neutral position on this bill because Senator Dierks has listed it as his priority bill.  He has a constituent, Emily Schneider, who is being denied a free and appropriate education altogether.  I mean, she can't get enrolled in school altogether and his parents ...  her parents came ...  wrote to Senator Dierks but he has chosen not to address their needs.  And I wanted to give you that example.  You know, representative democracy doesn't work very well for people who are severely disabled


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because, you know, you could just say, well, they cost the society too much so I'm just going to ignore that need.  And I have a Senator that behaves in the same that Senator Dierks does.


SENATOR SUTTLE:  Any more wishing to testify?  If not, Senator Bohlke or Senator Dierks, whichever one of you want to close?


SENATOR BOHLKE:  I can just close I think from here and then if Senator Dierks wishes to, you know.  I don't think there's been very much opposition to the bill.  As one person was testifying about the ability to do some kind of creative things within the new unified district, it seems that some of those schools could almost become a magnet school eventually as they would look to have programs that were particularly strong in the one district, and it just struck me as another real positive portion of the bill that could eventually happen, that then those programs could be stronger as they really zeroed in on those that might be offered in one of the buildings.  So, thanks for all the school board members and the superintendent, really who first described to me some time last year in another meeting on LB 806 and I think it was always our intention and hope that there would be ...  this would be one idea that school districts might look at and I guess you're leading the way and you may...  I think we may see other districts follow suit.


SENATOR SUTTLE:  Senator Dierks, do you have any closing remarks?  okay, you may begin ...  either close or open, whichever one you wish.


SENATOR DIERKS:  Well, I have a comment to make concerning what Ms.  D'Anne Welch told you.  I have...


SENATOR SUTTLE:  Could you identify yourself, Senator Dierks?


SENATOR DIERKS:  Senator Dierks, 40th Legislative District.  I have looked into the problem that she's talking about.  I've asked the administration in Bellevue where this child lives, on how to take her into their program but that hasn't happened and they have written me back and told me why but it isn't that we've ignored that child.  It's that we've


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tried and it's not happening.