Wednesday, March 29, 2017

"Real World Leadership Bootcamp" for the YHS Class of 2017

Wednesday, April 19th is going to be another great day in York. All of our juniors will be taking the state mandated ACT test. Our freshmen and sophomores will be on their spring semester college visits. Our seniors will participate in our first ever "Real World Leadership Bootcamp" at the Holthus Convention Center.

This event is designed to expose all YHS Seniors to many issues they will face over the next few years out in the “real world.” YPS has joined forces with many business partners and helpful individuals throughout our amazing community to offer the following nine stations that will last about 25-minutes each. We will also have a delicious lunch from Dickey's BBQ!

Personal Finance Station #1 – HENDERSON STATE BANK
• Writing a check
• Balancing a checkbook
• Debit card management

Personal Finance Station #2 – CORNERSTONE BANK
• Credit card issues
• Credit rating
• Beware of identity theft (log out of computers, etc.)
• How you build a credit rating and why it's important to do so

Personal Finance Station #3 – MIDWEST BANK
• Student loans
• Personal loans (car, etc.)
• Interest rate variables

Personal Finance Station #4 – YORK STATE BANK
• On-line banking
• Apps and digital tools
• Personal budgeting samples

Station #5 is Basic Car Maintenance and Checkups from PENNER'S TIRE & AUTO as they will bring an actual car out to show how to do basic automobile checks, etc.

Station #6 is "tips and tricks" from KOPSA-OTTE

Station #7 is information about metabolism changes as you get older, healthy snacking, and basic transition ideas for life beyond high school from BRENDA KOWALSKI and CHARLENE DORCEY

Station #8 is a crash course on the important world of car insurance, liability, etc. from CORNERSTONE INSURANCE as they will show the impact that speeding and parking tickets have on premium costs, etc.

Station #9 is an ALUMNI PANEL where several 20-somethings will share with our soon to be graduates what they need to be prepared for once they leave home

We are looking forward to this new activity and hope that is provides our Class of 2017 with some helpful hints and review of material that will be helpful in the "real world."


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

My Thoughts on the OPS Fiasco and Brett Favre

I have a pretty random and diverse blog this week....where else can you combine topics like the failed superintendent search at OPS and Brett Favre?


I’m saddened by the botched superintendent search for Omaha Public Schools. Lots of people are piling on, pointing fingers, and making jokes about OPS and that’s too bad. As someone who loves Nebraska, I realize we need OPS to be amazing. Right around 20% of the state’s public school students attend OPS. We need them to excel for the sake of our state, not just themselves.

The things that make Norris, Millard, Gothenburg, York, and many other places amazing school districts are our attention to detail, community and staff pride, and team-like atmosphere. OPS can take note and learn from some of their smaller counterparts. OPS is not too big to succeed. They can be the most amazing urban school district in the nation.

OPS needs to use “The Nebraska” in them to become elite. Grit. Relentlessness. Common sense. Unselfishness. No excuses. Reciprocal Accountability. Follow-through. Communication. Difficult and Awkward Conversations. They can’t be too proud to make some changes. They need to take this time to re-focus, re-connect with their students, staff, parents, and patrons, and earn back trust.

Omaha Public Schools is a good district. It is full of lots of talented and dedicated people. They need to come together and forge ahead committed to becoming the best they’ve ever been. This is their opportunity to turn adversity into improvement.

Back in 2000, when I had just become the principal at West Point Elementary in West Point, Nebraska; I visited OPS to learn about their ELL programs. They were doing amazing things and they still are today. Don’t bash OPS as a system. There are many award-winning programs and processes in place.

Nobody that loves Nebraska should root for OPS to fail. There's 53,000 students in that district. They can be the shining light for the rest of us and I hope they do so.

“Tough times don’t last, tough people do.” I’m rooting for OPS to right the ship.


Over the weekend, I watched “A Football Life” about Brett Favre on the NFL Network. I’ve always loved #4 and the way he played so hard and gave so much. This 60-minute documentary talked about his love for his family, how he treated everyone from the garbage man to the trainer to the coaches to the owners to the food staff the same way, and how he is the same, simple southern boy that just likes to be outside and at home with his loved ones, despite being worth millions of dollars.

He was always very friendly and a prankster with all. That says more to me about what kind of man he is….that’s way more important than touchdown passes and MVP awards. His daughters told stories of how he would embarrass them when he dropped them off at school by rolling down the windows, blaring loud music, and tossing tennis balls at them as they walked away.

Brett Favre has never taken himself too seriously and I love that about him. He’s the same dude no matter where he goes. There’s nothing fake about him. He played hurt because he loved the game and he didn’t want to let his teammates down. He had fun and he made those around him laugh and feel good about themselves. Wherever Brett Favre goes, he takes Brett Favre with him.

Cheers to Brett Favre from Kiln, Mississippi…even though he helped upset my beloved Seminoles in the opening game of the 1989 season when he was slinging the pigskin for the Southern Miss Golden Eagles.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Opposition to LB-630 (Charter Schools)

Yesterday, I attended the public hearing on LB-630, which would allow charter schools under the name of "independent school districts" in Nebraska. It began at 1:30 and I gave my opponent testimony a little after was a long day. There were about 8-10 proponents for the bill, with a good percentage of them being from out of state. There were dozens of opponents to the bill, with all of them being Nebraskans.

Much of the proponent testimony focused on things in New York City, Chicago, and Washington D.C. Almost all of the opponent testimony focused on things in Nebraska. It was interesting to hear the displeasure with Senator Larson (the introducer of the bill) that the folks from O'Neill had as being part of his constituency.

It will be fascinating to see how much more aggressive the "school choice lobby" gets. They like to try and start arguments on social media and seem to take pure delight in running down public education. After sitting through hours and hours of testimony, I am still confused as to what the real advantages of charter schools are...I never heard an answer I could connect with. Some said it was that charter schools offer 3-4 adults that connect with kids daily. Some said it was that the school day is longer. Some said it was "high expectations." Some said it was differentiated and freedom of curriculum. I just shook my head because those are things we offer already, with the exception of curriculum state standards that we must adhere to. We have extended day and extended year programming, numerous caring adults that all of our students interact with, and high expectations and accountability. We differentiate instruction to various learning styles and levels of need.

I'm now more convinced than ever that we don't need additional school choice in Nebraska. We have plenty of "choice" already.

Below is the testimony I used.

As superintendent of York Public Schools, I am here to offer opposition testimony towards LB-630. Many others have, or will, offer detailed testimony about specific components of this bill. My brief comments will come from more of a high altitude fly-by.

• We already have numerous “choice options” in our great state without adding these “independent charter public schools.” According to data from the Nebraska Department of Education, we currently have…
o 22,148 students using their “option enrollment choice” throughout the state. Within YPS, we have students from seven school districts that use their option in or out choice with us. We currently have about 30 more students that option in as opposed to optioning out. By the way, many states don’t offer option enrollment options like we do here in the Cornhusker state.
o 37,762 students using their “non-public school choice” with an estimated 8,290 of them being “home-schooled.” YPS has about 34 home-schooled students living within our boundaries and we have a tremendous relationship with Emmanuel-Faith Lutheran and St. Joseph’s Catholic as we help provide them with many services and support for the important work they do in the parochial school sector.

I'm opposed to taking funds away from public schools for choice/privatization efforts like charter schools, vouchers, and “independent public schools” as described in LB-630 that don’t have the same accountability that public schools have to follow. They don’t have to have publicly elected boards, don’t have to have annual audits, don’t have to adhere to open meeting laws, manage spending lids, and they get to pick and choose which students they serve, while public schools gladly welcome one and all.

They get to take who they want, do what they want, and spend state money while likely damaging the public school system through even less funding.

Nebraska already ranks 49th in the nation for the percentage of its state budget that gets allocated to K-12 education. We already have way too much of an over-reliance on local property taxes to fund the schools we currently have.

It’s really that simple to me. If they want to use state dollars, they need to follow state guidelines and be every bit as accountable as our public schools. Otherwise, if Senator Larson’s “independent public schools” create advantages for students, maybe all schools should be able to operate under the same parameters?

• It’s been interesting to see a few “school choice groups” pop up over the past few years.
o I’m thankful they have formed and become so aggressive and transparent about their disdain for Nebraska’s public schools. I think some of them refer to us as “the establishment.” I’ve had to block a few of them on Twitter for not being able to handle themselves in a mature fashion. They’ve helped to really unify public educators all across the state as well as within our communities. Not a week goes by that I don’t have a parent or patron contact me to see what they can do to help support our public schools and it is awesome!

The “school choice lobby” might say I’m just protecting “the establishment” or trying to save my cushy, easy job. They might say opponents of this bill are afraid of competition and accountability and that we need “change.”

Nothing could be farther from the truth. We’ve never been afraid of competition, accountability, or change. We compete every single day as it is. You think York doesn’t want to be better than Seward and Crete in everything we do or that they don’t want to be better than York? All I ask is if we’re going to have to compete with charter schools or independent public schools, let’s use the same rules.

Anyone in the world is invited to York Public Schools any day of the week. Come see what we’re about and what we do and how we do it every single day. Come unannounced or set up a visit. You’ll be impressed by the amazing things our teachers, support staff, and administrators are doing with 1,350 students every day. We’re doing it with fewer state dollars than ever before and a smaller staff too. Every Student. Every Day. We Find a Way!

School choice proponents might tell you they can save money and that if they take students away from public schools, the operational costs of public schools should decrease as well. Let’s say the “Platform Charter Independent Public School” opens up in York and takes 50 students away from us across the PreK-12th grade spectrum. We won’t be able to cut costs. We will still have the same number of bus routes, the same length of school day and same square footage to heat/cool our buildings, the same staff, same programming, etc. We could simply have 100 students per grade level instead of 104; this is not really conducive to cost savings.

This isn’t Florida where I’m from. This isn’t Detroit or Atlanta or Washington, D.C. We’re not Los Angeles or Chicago or New York City either. Our schools are working in York and all throughout NEBRASKA and we’re committed to continued improvement and changes that meet the needs of our communities.

Let’s focus on supporting the choices we already have here with outstanding parochial and non-public schools, home school options, and public school option enrollment.

Education should not be for sale in Nebraska.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

School Board Members Deserve Praise and Support

I have a tremendous amount of appreciation and respect for school board members. They serve the students and patrons of their communities in a very selfless manner as they receive no pay. Zilch. Nada. Nothing. School board members often deal with difficult policies and situations that can divide communities and create “darned if you and darned if you don’t” scenarios.

As a principal or superintendent, I’ve been lucky to work for school boards in West Point, Franklin, and York and have found them all to be very conscientious, inquisitive, and dedicated to the children of their communities. As a leadership consultant, I’ve been fortunate to work with over 35 more school boards of all sizes in all areas of the state. One common thread of each school board I’ve worked with or for is “PRIDE” in their school and community. They understand the important connection that communities and their public schools share.

School board members are extremely accountable, just like the school districts they serve. They have to ensure their school district adheres to state mandated spending and tax levy lids. They have to make sure they follow all of the “Rule 10” guidelines that are laid out for public schools to meet or exceed. They must maintain policies that meet special education guidelines, assessment and accountability measures, and more “red tape” than most folks can imagine. They also remain accountable, as locally elected officials, to their patrons to provide a high quality education while also being wary of the “local tax burden.”

It is the issue of “local tax burden” that motivated me to write this. I’m tired of seeing school board members blamed for high property taxes. Low levels of state funding for education is at the heart of Nebraska’s property tax issues, not school spending. The 2015 Legislative Fiscal Office report showed that school spending growth over the past decade was at its lowest level in the past 30 years. Numerous districts, like York, have average annual spending increases of less than 1.6%.

Nebraska ranks 49th in the country in the percentage of K-12 funding that comes from the state. Nebraskans pay the 7th highest effective property tax rate in the nation. Our state has a “school funding” problem.

Nebraska K-12 schools receive 33% of their funding from state sources while the national average is 47%. Nebraska K-12 schools receive 49% of their funding from local property taxes while the national average is 29%. We need to reform the way schools are funded and we need to rely much less on local property taxes.

Now is the time to address how we can adequately fund high performing schools without such an extreme over-reliance on local property taxes. We’re not going to be able to “cut our way to excellence.” We need our elected officials in Lincoln, many of whom made campaign promises of lowering local property taxes, to stay true to their word. Adequate and sustainable funding of high quality K-12 public education is imperative for the future of Nebraska and we need to find a way to do so without damaging agriculture producers.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Happy 150th Birthday to NEBRASKA

I love Nebraska. It's awesome to celebrate the 150th birthday of the Cornhusker State today, and really all throughout 2017. Nebraska is a special place with lots of tremendous people. My home state will always be Florida but I really appreciate all that Nebraska has to offer, especially as a dad and husband.

Nebraska is, for the most part, a safe place. I don't always lock my truck. I've never owned a house key for any of our homes in West Point, Franklin, or York. We sometimes take for granted the high quality of life we have here.

Nebraskans are, almost always, pretty dadgum nice. I will never forget the winter of 1992 when I was driving into Nebraska during a snow storm. I was headed north into Omaha to see my girlfriend, now wife. As I got closer and closer to the Nebraska border on I-29, the roads got slicker and slicker. I was in my GMC Jimmy, a small version of a blazer is the best way to describe it. I spun out on I-29, screamed like a little girl at a horror movie, and ended up in the median facing south. My little Jimmy with its Florida license plate was stuck. Within 5-minutes, just 300 seconds, two different cars (with Nebraska plates) had risked their own injury by stopping to check on me. Wow! I couldn't believe it. I remember thinking to myself that if that had happened in Florida, I also would've had two people stop within 5-minutes, but most likely their intent would have been to mug me, not help me!

Nebraska is under-rated. We have lots of awesome things here. The College World Series, the Henry Doorly Zoo, Chimney Rock, the Sandhills, and much, much more. While I love Omaha and Lincoln, I really like small town Nebraska too. The awesome little pizza joint in Pender, the bar in Republican City where they take shiner shots on Memorial Day Weekend, the mom and pop restaurant in Orleans that has the best patty melts this side of the Pecos River, and the Cuming County Fair in West Point are all amazing.

Nebraska is proud. Czech Days in Wilber, Yorkfest, The Annual Car Show in West Point, and other community celebrations show the amount of PRIDE we have in Nebraska. I love going to state level school activities like wrestling and track & field where you see folks from Cody-Kilgore next to folks from Omaha South. I love the beauty of Gering and Scottsbluff and the Republican River area between Red Cloud and Alma. I love seeing turkey and deer all over the place. I love all of the awesome places to fish and golf.

Nebraska offers it all. We have the city boys that wear skinny jeans and skinny ties that use hair gel and hand lotion daily. We also have the good 'ol boys that have belt buckles bigger than kindergarteners and skoal rings in every pair of jeans they own. We have folks that drives Ferraris and BMW's and small towns where if you drive anything other than a pickup truck, you're looked at a little differently. Nebraska is diverse but it is together, too.

Don't take Nebraska for granted. We enjoy safety, great people, more attractions and things to do than we realize, and a great quality of life. I'm proud to have married a Nebraskan and to raise four kids here. Nebraska feels like home.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Nebraskans United for Property Tax Reform and Education

Today was a good day! We held a press conference at the Capitol in Lincoln to unveil an extremely large coalition that currently consists of agriculture and educational organizations. Below are our founding principles and current coalition members.

We have a lot of momentum built up and plan to continue to communicate at a high level about the need for adequate and sustainable funding of public education while reducing our over-reliance on local property taxes. The time is now. This has to be a top priority for lawmakers.

This coalition represents small business owners, homeowners, farmers, school leaders, and folks from Omaha to Chadron and all places in between. We account for over 98% of the school districts in Nebraska and over 60,000 landowners. This is a big deal and we're determined to work together to protect two of Nebraska's greatest assets....public education and agriculture production.


Adequate and sustainable funding of high quality K-12 education is imperative for the future of Nebraska.

• A well-educated workforce is essential for economic development and a high quality of life.1

• Education reduces poverty, boosts economic growth and increases income. In sum, education is one of the most important investments a state can make in its people and its future.2

• Low levels of state funding for education is at the heart of Nebraska’s property tax issues, not school spending.3


Tax reform which reduces the over-reliance on local property taxes is necessary to ensure our tax system is fair to all Nebraska taxpayers.

• Nebraska must reduce property taxes to ensure a fair and balanced tax system.

o Nebraska ranks 49th in the country in the percentage of K-12 funding that comes from the state.4

o Nebraskans pays the 7th highest effective property tax rate in the nation.5

• To fund the state budget, we need a tax system that is fair and balanced for all Nebraska taxpayers. Nebraska’s taxpayers need a significant reduction in property taxes.

o Nebraska K-12 schools receive 33% of their funding from state sources while the national average is 47%.6

o Nebraska K-12 schools receive 49% of their funding from local property taxes while the national average is 29%.6

Coalition Members

Nebraska Farm Bureau
Nebraska Fair
Nebraska Council of School Administrators
Nebraska Corn Growers Association
Nebraska State Education Association
Reform for Nebraska’s Future
Nebraska Rural Community Schools Association
Nebraska Farmers Union
Women Involved in Farm Economics
Nebraska Soybean Association
Gage County Property Tax Group
Nebraska Pork Producers
Nebraska Wheat Growers
Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska
Schools Taking Action for Nebraska Children’s Education
Greater Nebraska Schools Association

1 Educational Attainment as an Economic Driver for States, Regions and Communities; Larry Good and Jeannine La Prad - Corporation for a Skilled Workforce, Michigan State University, 2013.

2 The economic case for education, Ludger Woessmann, University of Munich, Journal of Education Economics, 2016.

3 Property Tax Truth, NSEA Voice Magazine, February, 2017. Property Taxes, State Aid and School Spending, NSEA Research, January, 2017; Data Source: Nebraska Department of Education Annual Finance Reports of School Districts, 1995-96 to 2015-16.

4 U.S. Census Bureau, Public Education Finance Report, June, 2016.

5 How High Are Property Taxes in Your State? Tax Foundation, July, 2016; Data Source - 2014 American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau data.

6 U.S. Census Bureau, Public Education Finance, 2016 – Based on 2014 Survey Data.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Onslaught is REAL

I've blogged and written about the "attack on public education" quite often over the past few years...probably too much, to be honest. Some people have labeled me as paranoid or just a hired gun that's trying to protect a cushy, easy each their own.

I've received a death threat, nasty social media messages, vile emails, and hate letters in my mailbox. That's all fine and dandy because with each passing day, I become more and more convinced that the onslaught is real.

Yesterday was a perfect example. Governor Ricketts came to York for a "town hall meeting." During his informative talk, he spoke of the state's budget, plans for property tax relief, and ways to make Nebraska better for all of us. His speech was well done.

He didn't mention anything about York Public Schools during his talk to the crowd yesterday, although he has mentioned YPS in a negative light in these same speeches in Seward, Crete, and other locations. In previous speeches, he made the claim that York Public Schools misused the Qualified Capital Purpose Fund and we're an example of why that levy limit needed to be dropped from 5.2 cents to 3.0 cents with recent legislation.

His office didn't seem to know what all went in to our use of the QCPUF during YHS construction. They didn't know we worked with legal counsel and Ameritas Investments. I shared that info with his aide yesterday as we have nothing to hide. We had to access some already collected QCPUF funds because construction bids came in 20% higher than we were told they would. We had to keep our promise to taxpayers about the tax levy so we scrambled to make use of dollars we had access to without requesting additional tax money. We had to take out a 7-year lease agreement that we pay off with building fund dollars. It wasn't and isn't ideal but we were very transparent about it and shared a detailed update in the York News Time in March 2014.

Despite us having an average annual spending increase of just 1.5% over the past 8-years, he told a farmer in a one-on-one conversation after the meeting that York Public Schools spends too much money and that's why our local property taxes are so high. He chose to reference our spending increase between 2013-14 and 2014-15 when we increased spending by $1 million because of our construction "issues" at YHS, adding $250,000 worth of grant-funded early childhood programming, and finally spending a little bit of money on technology, curriculum updates, and vehicle replacements that had been pushed to the side for years. Yes, we did have a big spending increase in 2014-15. However, what was failed to be mentioned, was our 8-year average is 1.5% and we spent the same amount of money in 2015-16 as we did in 2014-15.

When an organization as large as YPS, which operates a $16.5 million budget, can average only 1.5% in average spending, they shouldn't be ridiculed. What is really sad is that we've been doing what the Governor wants the state to do. He talked about controlling spending and he's proud that the state has gone from 6% to 3.5% growth. We have controlled our spending and continue to do so. We're on pace to spend less in 2016-17 than we did in 2015-16, which was the same amount we spent in 2014-15.

Our average increase in annual revenue over the last eight years has been just 2% but due to declining state and federal monies, our local property tax request has gone up by an average of 8%. School Spending is NOT the reason we have high property taxes. The way our schools are funded is the culprit.

School spending is under attack. We're made out to be the bad guy because "the state doesn't levy property taxes." Well, when the state doesn't provide adequate funding for schools, they have no other choice but to levy property taxes. The state gladly lets soaring land valuation dollars replace the state's commitment to funding schools.

Even if YPS cut out another $1 million from our budget, that wouldn't solve our "property tax issue." Check this stat....if our property tax request for 2016-17 was $1 MILLION LESS than it really is, that would still be a 50% increase in the past seven years. Does that fix our over-reliance on property taxes? NO!

It's a funding problem and not a spending problem.