After more than a year of controversies on the Omaha school board, district voters have opted for a fresh start.
Six of the nine seats on the new OPS board will go to new members after Tuesday's voting. And the remaining three incumbents are also relatively new to the board.
In fact, Board President Marian Fey and board member Justin Wayne, both with two years of board experience, are now its elder statesmen. The other incumbent, Sarah Brumfield, was elected in November.
Wayne, who was re-elected in subdistrict 4, said the new board is ready to get started.
“I think the new board is all on the same page about developing a strategic plan, letting our new superintendent lead the way, and increasing accountability and transparency,” he said.
Tuesday's election ended a campaign that began with the most-crowded field of OPS board candidates since 1978.
Many of the 39 candidates said they wanted to seize the momentum for change created by the Nebraska Legislature earlier this year.
The Legislature shrunk the board from 12 board members to nine and called for spring elections.
The OPS board had experienced recent controversy, including being surprised by a $1 million payout given to the district's retiring superintendent.
Tuesday's election unseated one of the board's longest-serving members. Nancy Kratky, who was elected in 1994, lost to Matt Scanlan in the race to represent subdistrict 6 in west Omaha. Jennifer Tompkins Kirshenbaum was the other incumbent defeated.
“I truly think that the people who were elected tonight, I think they want to bring about change and they want to make sure folks are held accountable,” Scanlan said
Candidates who were backed by the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and the Omaha Education Association, the OPS teachers union, did well Tuesday.
The teachers union picked the winner in all nine races.
“A lot of new faces, it's a good thing for kids,” said Chris Proulx, head of the teachers union. “Every candidate we picked was very focused on how to improve student achievement.”
And voters elected five of the six candidates who were supported by the chamber: Wayne, Scanlan, Lou Ann Goding, Katie Underwood and Marque Snow. The chamber also backed Woody Bradford in his subdistrict 3 race against Fey.
Fey survived in the race featuring the most endorsements.
Her opponent, Bradford, had gained the support of Gov. Dave Heineman and former Nebraska Gov. Bob Kerrey. Bradford also had the most money of any OPS school board candidate when campaign finance reports were last filed.
“In the end, it's not about endorsements or money,” Fey said. “It's about substance and character, and a record of good, hard work.
World-Herald staff writer Joe Dejka contributed to this report.
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SUBDISTRICT 1 WINNER: Yolanda Williams
Yolanda Williams won by pitching her ability to think “outside the box.”
She got nearly 55 percent of the vote in north Omaha's Subdistrict 1.
She said voters warmed up to her honesty and her tendency to “tell it like it is.”
“It's going to be some tough work, and we're going to have to roll our sleeves up and get it done, but I'm very much looking forward to it,” Williams said.
Williams, 38, coordinates mentoring programs for the nonprofit Partnership 4 Kids in Omaha.
She was critical of “top-down” management in the district. She said the time has come to look at “bottom-up” management, identifying what OPS schools do right and spreading that across the district.
English, 68, a retired math teacher, advocated a return to the fundamentals: reading, writing and mathematics.
SUBDISTRICT 2 WINNER: Marque Snow
Northeast Omaha's Subdistrict 2 was guaranteed new, young representation on the Omaha school board, and voters chose Marque Snow to provide it.
Snow, 25, teen director of after-school and summer programs at the South Omaha YMCA, defeated Niokia Stewart, 34, a transitional youth professional with Region 6 Behavioral Health.
Both had invested time in the community. Snow, the son of two retired military veterans, has lived in Omaha about three years. Last fall, he took time off to work in the Nebraska Democratic Party's north Omaha campaign office. He received backing from the Omaha Education Association, the Douglas County Democratic Party and the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce.
Stewart grew up in north Omaha, graduated from Bryan High School and returned to north Omaha after becoming the first in her family to attend (and graduate from) college. She has coached for the Midwest Trailblazers and received backing from its founder, Justin Wayne, who won re-election in Subdistrict 4.
SUBDISTRICT 3 WINNER: Marian Fey
She had endorsements from neighborhood activists and well-known Omaha business owners. He had the support of two of Nebraska's most well-known politicians Gov. Dave Heineman and former Gov. Bob Kerrey.
Yet it was OPS board President Marian Fey who defeated Omaha attorney Woody Bradford in Tuesday's race to represent Subdistrict 3 Dundee and northwest Omaha.
Fey, 44, won her second term on the board. She also had an endorsement from the Omaha Education Association, the OPS teachers union. She wants to improve communication in the district and ignite the district's long-term planning.
Bradford, 73, had the most noteworthy endorsements and the most money of any OPS school board candidate when campaign finance reports were last filed. He also had support from the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce.
Bradford, in his first try for public office, said the OPS board needed new leadership because it wasn't leading the district.
SUBDISTRICT 4 WINNER: Justin Wayne
Justin Wayne notched a solid victory, with nearly 57 percent of the vote, in Subdistrict 4 in north Omaha.
The labor relations attorney for Union Pacific Railroad has pursued a reform agenda since first elected in 2010,
“I am ecstatic. We ran a great campaign, and I think voters are looking for OPS to continue moving in the right direction,” said Wayne, 33. “High academic standards. More transparency. And increased accountability.”
He has emphasized the need for strong neighborhood schools, which he said could reduce transportation costs. He said the district could do better at offering career education, especially at Northwest High School. And he called for renovating Nathan Hale Middle School into a school and community center.
Challenger Jill Brown, 39, an associate professor of developmental psychology at Creighton University, had said the board needs “true collaborators” who work together and have a shared vision. She said she could do that better than Wayne.
SUBDISTRICT 5 WINNER: Lou Ann Goding
Northwest Omaha's seat on the Omaha school board changed hands again Tuesday.
Lou Ann Goding, 49, a political newcomer but longtime school and community volunteer, will represent Subdistrict 5 by unseating Jennifer Tompkins Kirshenbaum, who was sworn in in January. Kirshenbaum defeated former State Sen. Pat Bourne last November, but legislative action forced another election.
Goding said Tuesday that she was thankful for the support she received from voters and supporters. Goding, who has an extensive business background, had the backing of the Omaha Education Association, the Douglas County Republican Party and the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce.
“I'm just excited to move forward and bring a different perspective to the board,” she said.
Kirshenbaum, 40, works part time in human resources at the Rose Blumkin Jewish Home. She also had worked as an OPS substitute teacher and served as a PTA president.
SUBDISTRICT 6 WINNER: Matt Scanlan
For the first time in almost 20 years, Nancy Kratky will not be on the Omaha school board.
Challenger Matt Scanlan defeated Kratky in Tuesday's race to represent Subdistrict 6 west Omaha on the new nine-member OPS board.
Scanlan, president of Woerner Wire Works, a steel fabricating company in north Omaha, was endorsed by the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce.
Scanlan, 39, also served as a naval flight officer before he and his wife moved back to Omaha in 2006.
During the campaign, Scanlan said that the school board has been failing Omaha and OPS students.
Kratky, 76, taught in OPS for more than 33 years before getting elected to the OPS board in 1994. Both candidates were backed by the OPS teachers union.
Kratky received 153 more votes than Scanlan during the four-person primary last month.
SUBDISTRICT 7 WINNER: Katie Underwood
Katie Underwood, a civil engineer for Olsson Associates, sailed to victory with more than 75 percent of the vote in Subdistrict 7, in south-central Omaha.
“I am excited about the opportunity to serve with what looks like a great school board,” she said, adding that “being a young professional and having a network of other young professionals, I think this is maybe a win for all of them and not just me.”
Underwood, 31, said she made a lot of connections when she served as president of the Greater Omaha Young Professionals.
She said that if Omaha is to be a vibrant community and a great place to live, the schools must be successful. Recruited to run by the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, Underwood also had the backing of the OPS teachers union.
Andy Allen, 48, is a computer technician for Lockheed Martin, a contractor for the Army Corps of Engineers in Omaha. He is a past president and lobbyist for the Nebraska Firearms Owners Association.
SUBDISTRICT 8 WINNER: Lacey Merica
Lacey Merica kept the lead she carved out in the April primary to claim the Subdistrict 8 seat on the Omaha school board, defeating retired biology teacher William Forsee.
The two emerged from a six-person primary field, with Forsee advancing after defeating the third-place finisher by a single vote, a margin that held in a mandatory recount. The subdistrict itself is a unique one, straddling South Omaha and Bellevue. Barbara Velazquez, the incumbent, did not run for re-election.
Merica, 29, graduated from Bryan High School, worked as a legislative aide to State Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha and now works as a claims adjuster on workers compensation cases. She received backing from the Omaha Education Association and the Douglas County Democratic Party.
Forsee, 64, who taught for 37 years in Council Bluffs and Omaha, served two years on the Metropolitan Community College board after being appointed to fill a vacancy in 2010. He touted a desire to expand opportunities for young people.
SUBDISTRICT 9 WINNER: Sarah Brumfield
Brumfield, 29, was re-elected to the board during Tuesday's election, defeating Rebecca Barrientos-Patlan in the contest to represent Subdistrict 9, in South Omaha, on the board.
Brumfield successfully ran for a board seat last November to get more involved in the education of her daughter, who is a second-grader at Liberty Elementary School in downtown Omaha.
After action by the Legislature forced another election, she ran again with a goal of improving communication throughout OPS.
Barrientos-Patlan, 54, grew up in South Omaha and graduated from South High.
She ran for a board seat to get parents more involved in their children's education.
In the four-person April primary, Barrientos-Patlan received 776 votes to Brumfield's 638.