The most competitive Omaha school board election in decades has gained another distinction: the most expensive — for the candidates and the public.
Individuals and organizations gave more money to Omaha school board candidates this spring than they have in any election, at least since the year 2000, campaign finance filings show. And those tallies don't include the last two weeks of the campaign; those numbers are yet to be reported.
In all, 10 of the final 18 OPS candidates received a combined $161,000 in contributions and personal loans as of April 29, the most recent campaign finance reporting deadline, although some filings included money from after the deadline.
The new board members will be sworn in tonight.
Having OPS elections in April and May cost OPS taxpayers more than past elections.
The Douglas and Sarpy County Election Commissions plan to bill the school district about $129,000 and $8,348, respectively. A typical OPS election in Douglas County costs the district about $5,000, said Dave Phipps, Douglas County Election Commissioner.
That's because regular OPS elections, held in May and November of even-numbered years, typically share the ballot — and the cost of the election — with more entities, he said.
Little about the recent OPS elections was customary.
They were held because the Nebraska Legislature passed a law in February that shrunk the board and called for spring elections.
The previous OPS board of 12 members shrank to nine, and every seat was open. Thirty-nine candidates filed for the April 2 primary, the most competitive OPS primary since 1978.
Unlike past elections, the business community also got involved. The Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce recruited candidates and kept them well-funded.
The chamber was successful: Two-thirds of the board's new members have a business background. Past boards have largely consisted of retired educators.
The elections even drew cash from Omaha's most famous investor, Warren Buffett. He gave $1,000 each to four OPS candidates, including two campaign winners — Marian Fey and Matt Scanlan. Buffett also gave to Jill Brown and Jennifer Tompkins Kirshenbaum.
Buffett, a Democrat, has given in past local races, including the spring's mayoral contest and at least one past OPS contest.
Money may have played a role in the May 14 general election. In the OPS races in which candidates had to file campaign finance reports, the candidate with the most funds as of April 29 won in every contest but one.
Woody Bradford, a longtime Omaha attorney, had raised more than $35,000 as of April 29. His opponent, board President Marian Fey, had raised about $14,000, according to the reports. But it is Fey who will represent Subdistrict 3, Dundee and other parts of central Omaha.
The race in Subdistrict 6, farther west and southwest, also had a wide financial discrepancy. Matt Scanlan, who won the election, raised about $27,500. His opponent, Nancy Kratky, raised almost $10,700, including $9,000 that she personally loaned to her campaign.
Tonight's swearing-in will ceremoniously end the tenure of Kratky and eight other board members, including some longtime members. Kratky and Shirley Tyree have been on the board since 1995 and 1993, respectively.
The departing group also includes some of the shortest-tenured OPS board members, such as Pat Davis, who was appointed in March, and Tompkins Kirshenbaum, who was elected in November, began serving in January but lost in last month's election.
OPS hosted a public reception for the nine last week.
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