Two years ago, Justin Wayne was the outsider, often a lone voice of dissent on a 12-member Omaha school board.
Monday night, that outsider became the board's new president.
The freshly sworn-in nine-member board chose Wayne on a 6-3 vote during its first round of presidential voting. New board member Lou Ann Goding was elected vice president with six votes in round one as well.
The two will now serve as board officers until January 2014, when the board is expected to select leadership again.
In choosing Wayne, the new board voted against the previous board president, Marian Fey, and set the board on a new path.
Now it is Wayne who will lead the board's transition with incoming Superintendent Mark Evans, who starts July 1. Wayne also will guide the board's long-term planning that should formally begin once Evans starts with the Omaha Public Schools.
The selection of Wayne also continues moving OPS in a new direction. First, in February, the Nebraska Legislature passed a state law that shrunk the board from 12 members to nine and called for spring elections. Then last month, voters elected six new board members: Goding, Lacey Merica, Marque Snow, Matt Scanlan, Katie Underwood and Yolanda Williams.
They join Wayne, Fey and Sarah Brumfield on a new board that, as its first task, chose the former outsider to lead them.
“It shows that this board wants to really be effective at change, be good at governing,” Goding said. “This board is going to make sure that we're actively engaged and have oversight over the superintendent.”
After the nine board members took the oath of office, Wayne and Fey each nominated themselves to be president in front of the 40 or so people in the crowd. Among those attending part of the meeting was Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, who introduced the bill that became law and downsized the board.
Fey and Wayne were given time to speak.
Fey cited the job she's done since late January, when she became president after Freddie Gray resigned from the board. Fey said she was able to put the focus back on the academics and away from the drama and restore a tone of civility to the OPS board.
Wayne said he had met individually with a majority of the nine board members and asked them three goals they wanted from their next board president.
If elected, Wayne said he would increase accountability and transparency, orchestrate a smooth transition with Evans and improve communication between board members and the district overall.
“There's no doubt in my mind that we can be the model school district,” Wayne told the board.
After the secret ballots were counted, Wayne and Fey swapped seats, with Wayne sitting down in the middle of the board's C-shaped table.
Wayne's transition from outsider to president has hardly been smooth.
He started his board tenure in January 2011, and immediately began questioning how the district operated, which garnered him detractors from inside and outside the district.
Wayne would send page-long emails, questioning small items — the possible cost savings of cutting printed school newsletters — and large items — the district's integration program.
Two months into Wayne's board service, the board's leadership asked the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission to investigate conflict-of-interest allegations mostly connected to Wayne's role in a youth sports organization.
Since then, he has publicly questioned and criticized various district programs and arrangements, including the district's transportation plan and how much it pays for outside legal services.
In past years, OPS has spent millions on its legal services, more than other large, urban districts do, including those that hire their own attorneys.
Wayne even advocated for the Legislature to shrink the OPS board, an unpopular stance with the district.
Monday night, Wayne said he was ready to move forward. He said he sees no division on the board. In fact, he said, he and Fey had already set up a meeting to talk about leadership transition.
Wayne had come close before to being the board's president.
In January, it took the board 30 rounds to select Gray, and for 20 of those rounds, he and Gray each received six votes.
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