LPS Superintendent's Teacher Advisory Council

Summary of April 13, 2016 Meeting


Summary/Highlights for April 13, 2016  

Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Update

LPS Superintendent Steve Joel started the meeting with a school district update for the Teacher Advisory Council.

Proud of property tax support

“If you hear people complaining that they wish property taxes were lower, I’m going to give you several ways to respond,” Joel said:

  • The state of Nebraska is 49th in the country for providing state support of education. “Our schools must rely on property taxes, because they are not supported by sales or income tax – there is no other funding support. If we lowered property taxes we would need to raise the sales or income tax.”
  • “I would challenge us to be creative in finding new sources of financial support. Do we consider raising the sales tax on food? No that’s a regressive tax…. How about gambling?  No, we don’t gamble in Nebraska where there is the good life…What about looking at taxes on haircuts, or tattoos?…

My point is this: We have considerable money in Nebraska exempt from taxes, so why do we only talk about reducing public education?”

  • “Finally, let’s keep remembering that the future of the state depends on our kids getting a high quality education.”

Nebraska Legislature

Joel said he was pleased with passage of LB930, which will eliminate the current Nebraska State Accountability (NeSA) reading, writing and math assessments at the high school level – and replace it with a standard college admissions test (to be selected by the State Board of Education). The next essential step in the process is for the bill to go Gov. Ricketts for his consideration.


Joel said the discussion will continue in the coming years about bringing the concept of charters and vouchers to Nebraska, and urged everyone to become educated about what has happened in some states where charters have not been appropriately regulated.  “We see states where you can open a charter school with a one-page application, where teachers don’t have to be certified, where there are no curriculum requirements.”

There are critics who say that public education is stale, stuck, Joel continued.  “They are saying that unless we change the way we teach and learn, then we won’t get results. I believe they are wrong. Public education has never been stronger in America.”


Joel noted the continued growth at LPS with 700-plus more students expected for the 2016-17 school year.  “Drive south on South 70th or north on North 84th, drive around Fallbrook, downtown, we are growing as a city in every direction.”

He explained that city planners anticipate 1.2 percent annual population growth in the coming years. “We have high schools over 2,000.  Kooser, a new school that opened with 240 students, is now at 800.  So the question becomes how we as a school district – with great pride in our facilities – accommodate all these kids.”

Joel said the Board of Education would specifically be talking about how LPS deals with the anticipated growing high school population.  “Do we add a seventh comprehensive high school? Where do we build it?  Do we build two, when it costs $100 million to build a new high school?  Or do we think about smaller focus choice options, and were do we build those?  These will not be easy questions.


“I believe that at the end of the day, it isn’t about taxes, it isn’t about the issues, it’s about the experience your kids have with teachers – that really makes a difference.”

Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Q&As

Question:  We have an ethnic subgroup that we believe are dealing in drugs.  Is there someone we can work with at District Office to address this issue and help us reach out to this community?

Answer:  Please work with Oscar Rios Pohirieth, cultural specialist and coordinator for Bilingual Liaison Program at LPS.


Question:  Are there any additional plans for students with behavior issues, and for those who don’t quality for behavior issue programs?

Answer: The Don Sherrill Education Center now handles students grades K-8 with serious behavior issues, while the Yankee Hill facility takes high school kids.  However, next fall the new Bill Nuernberger Education Center will open at 40th and Sumner and take middle school students, which will allow a significant number of additional spaces for students.


Question: Is there any plan to have a fulltime counselor at every school?

Answer: I wish we could have a fulltime counselor and social worker in every school; I know we need them desperately.  We have definitely increased the number of counselors particularly in our elementary schools and I hope that will continue…But we also have to be realistic about the necessity of finding funding alternatives to make that happen.”


Question: Tell us more about the special education audit and how that report will be shared.

Answer: The Board of Education determined that our school district would be wise to take a comprehensive look at Special Education – not because there is a problem, “but because we are always looking for ways to improve our best practices and better improve the way we deliver services.”  Joel said the plan is to hold a public Board of Education Work Session early this summer to release and discuss findings.  “And that is only the beginning…The special education team will take the recommendations and create a plan to phase in changes gradually over the next three to five years.”


Question: We are dealing with a small population of kids who have serious and chronic attendance issues and whose parents perhaps do not understand the importance of coming to school.  What can we do to increase attendance?  Are there incentives we can put in place?

Answer: Joel said there were decent attendance laws in the state and truancies should ultimately trigger intervention from the County Attorney’s Office… “But when we look at places where they have made great gains on attendance it generally comes down to individual relationships with our parents and kids – proactive communication with families.”


Joel urged teachers to write up proposals for new ideas and take those to their School Improvement teams – and perhaps then take the ideas to the Foundation for LPS.  “I think we can get you some funds for pilot type of programs.”


Question:  We are seeing kids who get in trouble, but who have figured out the courts are not always following up…and it’s contributing to student misbehavior.

Answer: “We work with the courts and they do a great job, but the reality is there is not enough money allocated to youth detention…We are fortunate to have 1,300 people willing to serve as TeamMate mentors…We are also fortunate to have an initiative like Prosper Lincoln that has identified early childhood – where it all begins – as one of the community’s No. one priorities.”


Again, Joel said, please continue to consider being creative, write out proposals for possible programs and ideas to ease these kinds of issues – then submit those ideas to School Improvement teams as well as the Foundation.


Eric Weber, associate superintendent for Human Resources, suggested each school ask about the Gallup survey’s data on hope, wellness and engagement.  “That might be a place to begin.”


Another Advisory Council member suggested checking out ideas and resources on the website for ASCD.

Question:  What’s the status of the Technology Plan and is there any chance eighth graders will get their Chromebooks early?

Answer:  Joel said the plan was working well: Sixth graders have Chromebooks this year, seventh graders will receive them next year – “and last I heard, it was only a big maybe for eighth graders to get their Chromebooks early.”


Question: Is there any possibility of implementing a plan at our middle school where some teachers would volunteer to come in later, so we could offer extended day options at the end of the school day?

Answer: “Give us a plan for you to pilot a program and we’ll consider it. We are always looking for ways to be more creative…and there is a national push for more flexible scheduling…However, we do need to understand the challenges to make this kind of significant change – including changes in after-school activities, staffing and more.”