Potential budget cuts threatens OPS faculty

Dominick Bartels, News Writer

In 2009, due to the Great Recession, Omaha Public Schools (OPS) had to reallocate district employee’s retirement investments. However, the new investments have been returning slower than the district expected, causing a 26.4-million-dollar deficit for the 2018-2019 school year. 

In response, OPS hired Jim Freeman, a budget consultant, and appointed a committee of parents and staff to decide what programs, positions, and activities are to be cut.  

Initially, the Budget Advisory Committee (BAC) came up with 52 million dollars of potential cuts. The committee then ranked each proposed item based on what they felt should be cut. The top 12 items, then adding up to about 29.5 million dollars, were selected to be cut 

Freeman recommends that OPS should cut roughly 29.5 million dollars rather than 26.4 so there is “flexibility” if the deficit were to grow. 

Mark Evans, Superintendent of OPS, said that the goal of BAC is to keep the cuts as “far away from the classroom” as possible to limit the impact on students. 

However, Connie Knoche, chief financial officer for OPS, said that because OPS is “85% people” the cuts will impact the students. She went on to say that to limit the impact on students, about a third of the cuts (roughly 10 million dollars), will come from TAC. 

According to Charles Wakefield, head of Human Resources (HR), every department at TAC faced reductions of some kind. 

These cuts would eliminate positions causing employees who remain to have a higher work load. 

Reduction of elementary assistant principals and elimination of two secondary assistant principals were also in the BAC‘s proposed $28 million in cuts on April 19th. 

Wakefield said that the district is cutting the assistant principals, that were hired originally based on need but have become unnecessary, in order to return to the districts “staffing formula”.  

“Historically,” Evans said, “we havent had assistant principals at (elementary) schools that don’t have over 500 students.” 

At the April 19th BAC meeting, a Burke High parent and member of the committee, Karen Warner, was upset that Burke’s assistant principal was up for reassignment. She then testified to the assistant principal’s character saying he “made an impact on every student.” 

“The best companies keep the best people, who can do the best job,” Warner said.  

She continued by saying that OPS should follow that philosophy and reassign assistant principals based on skill rather than longevity.  

The other secondary assistant principal was initially going to be reassigned was from Northwest. 

The committee decided, on May 3rd, that the Burke and Northwest assistant principals would not be reassigned. 

However, School Support Liaisons and 50 full time employees, such as Instructional facilitators and curriculum coaches, are still in jeopardy of reassignment. However, employee reassignment will not be confirmed until the Board approves the budget over the summer. 

Snow assured that his objective is that no employee will lose their job. 

[Employees] will just move from one position to another,” Snow said, “It’s basically realigning our resources.” 

All staff members that were considered for reassignment, were notified through a letter by April 15. However, just because a staff member received a letter, it doesn’t mean that they will be reassigned. State law requires that OPS notifies any employee whose job may be affected causing reassignment letters to be over issued.  

The names of people who received reassignment letters have not been released by the district at this time. Various members of the BAC explained that OPS wants to respect the employee’s privacy.  

“It’s a very painful conversation telling an employee [they are being reassigned],” Evans said,” Every [employee] has value. I refuse to not see the value in each [employee].