- Associated Press - Monday, January 29, 2018

Omaha World Herald. January 25, 2018

Local control, not pay cap, for superintendents

A legislative bill that would arbitrarily tie the pay of all Nebraska K-12 superintendents to the pay of their district’s teachers is a heavy-handed state approach that would do more harm than good.

Legislative Bill 851 would require school district leaders’ compensation to be no more than an arbitrary multiplier of the district’s entry-level teachers’ salary and benefits. “There needs to be a leveling between the top people and the young kids getting out of college who we want to stay in this field,” said State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Omaha, the bill’s sponsor.

To extend her argument, does that mean a corporate CEO should earn no more than five times an entry-level worker? Should the CEO of the Nebraska Public Power District or Omaha Public Power District be paid no more than five times as much as a rookie lineman? Should the CEO of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services be capped at five times the pay of a front-line social worker?



This concept flies in the face of basic market-driven economics, in which talent is worth what the market will pay.

When Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts wanted to attract strong talent to lead a number of critical state agencies, he decided to pay some “transformational leaders” more than their predecessors.

He said he had to invest what the market dictated to attract capable leaders to run state government agencies effectively. This approach led to the stable leadership of HHS CEO Courtney Phillips, among others.

Republican Mayor Jean Stothert of Omaha just proposed significantly raising Police Chief Todd Schmaderer’s salary to keep him here.

This is how markets are supposed to work.

Linehan’s proposal, according to World-Herald reporting, would immediately affect at least four large school districts.

Superintendent compensation in Millard, Bellevue, Lincoln and Omaha already eclipses this limit, based on estimates of teacher compensation provided to the Legislature. These superintendents are responsible for complex budgets. Omaha Public Schools, for example, has a $600 million budget, more than 7,000 full-time employees and 82 schools.

Districts of such size require managers experienced in running large organizations. Those don’t come cheap.

Smaller school boards also expressed concerns. Chadron Public Schools board member Boone Huffman testified that such a cap might hurt his district, which must compete financially for talented administrators.

The Omaha Public Schools board just named a pair of finalists in its superintendent search. The district needs a skilled leader to continue the district’s positive momentum under retiring Superintendent Mark Evans. Would a salary cap help or hinder the search?

LB 851 also tramples on Nebraska’s successful tradition of local control in public education. If this is truly about raising teacher pay, as Linehan says, the state can find a more straightforward way than this.

The Legislature should reject LB 851 and leave local decisions to members of local school boards, who are best positioned to decide how to compensate their districts’ leaders.

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Kearney Hub. January 26, 2018.

Trade losses hurt state’s agriculture producers

“It’s been one year since Donald Trump, as one of his first acts as president, withdrew the United States from the Trans Pacific Partnership. This week, as the 11 remaining nations in the TPP began wrapping up negotiations, it is clear that withdrawal has harmed Nebraska agriculture.

The Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation said if the United States had remained in TPP, the foreign markets represented a $380 million trade opportunity. Nebraska farmers and ranchers now can do little except watch from the sidelines.

” … It is clear the U.S. missed a massive opportunity to expand exports to a growing region of the world,” Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson of Axtell wrote Jan. 23 to Trump. “Today we ask you and your administration to renew and strengthen your efforts to find new markets for our state and nation’s agricultural products.”

As they met this week in Tokyo, the 11 TPP nations said they pressed forward without the United States because TPP would be good for their citizens and because the pact is a statement against protectionism. TPP partners represent 14 percent of the world’s GDP. They are Japan, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

The nations are vast potential markets for Nebraska ag products. Farm Bureau’s concern is those nations also are some of the United State’s fiercest agricultural competitors. With the United States on the sidelines, TPP affords Australia, Canada, Mexico and New Zealand distinct trading advantages.

Nelson expressed his concerns to Trump: “Your action to pull the U.S. out of the TPP reset the clock and put our trade negotiators and our nation’s farmers and ranchers back at square one with some of our largest potential trading partners.”

Agriculture accounts for more than 40 percent of Nebraska’s economic output and nearly 24 percent of the state’s workforce. Trump’s withdrawal from TPP has contributed to lower prices for virtually every Nebraska ag commodity and lower farm income.

Nelson summed up the effects of Trump’s ill-advised protectionism: “The TPP agreement would have provided Nebraska with a $378.5 million yearly boost in agricultural cash receipts and increased net agricultural exports by $229.2 million per year.”

TPP was to create 1,730 new Nebraska jobs, leading us to wonder how much of Trump’s protectionism we can afford.

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Lincoln Journal Star. January 26, 2018

Subway car contract a big win for Lincoln, state

The New York Times called them the city’s “subway cars of the future” - and they’ll be built right here in Lincoln.

Kawasaki’s plant in northwest Lincoln is home to the Japanese company’s U.S. rail car manufacturing operations. As such, the vast majority of the construction of these rail cars will occur in the capital city following a contract that could produce more than 1,600 subway cars for nearly $3.7 billion.

The order, formally approved Thursday by New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, represents the largest-ever contract for the Lincoln facility, and a local Kawasaki official said its economic impact on the city and state “could be felt for years to come.”

Without question, securing a contract of this magnitude is a major victory for Lincoln and Nebraska as a whole. The dollars generated by this deal will go into paychecks for Nebraskans and support additional jobs, capital improvements and tax revenue that will ripple far beyond the complex along U.S. 34.

It also underscores the importance of the manufacturing industry, in a day and age where automation and the transfer of jobs overseas have threatened American workers. A contract of this size will help keep many Nebraskans employed in good-paying jobs.

After all, manufacturing is the largest industry other than agriculture in Nebraska. The 2016 Nebraska Manufacturing Report noted that the industry accounts for nearly 27 percent of the state’s economy.

Kawasaki’s local human resources director told the Journal Star it wasn’t immediately clear if the order would lead to more jobs, given that it fell at a time immediately after other contracts were completed. Even if didn’t create any additional employment, some 2,200 people already work at the company’s Lincoln facility, including 650 in its rail car operations.

And the products these Nebraskans are creating there are being recognized as world-class, even though the Times reported that the arrival of these new subway cars isn’t anticipated until July 2020.

Without boring readers by going too far into the weeds, the specifications of the open-gangway cars - the signature elements of the deal - and technology on them surpass what’s now on New York City’s rails, some of which are more than four decades old. It’s clear that the Lincoln-built rail cars will represent a significant upgrade as the nation’s largest city attempts to modernize its subway.

Just as these rail cars embody the future of public transit in New York City, they represent a strong manufacturing industry - and the benefits that entails - here in Nebraska.

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McCook Daily Gazette. January 26, 2018

Near-record number of adoptions is a positive indicator

Ideally, every child would be born into a stable home, with two loving parents able to provide the emotional and material support needed to grow into a mature, successful adult.

In reality, even the best of homes fall short in some ways, and in extreme cases, there is no choice but for the state to intervene.

In most cases, biological parents, judges, attorneys, guardians ad litem, foster parents, adoptive parents and service providers all work to reunite children with their families.

In others, adoption is the best choice.

As dedicated as state workers are, they are the first to admit, the “system” is a poor substitute for a forever home.

Thus the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services is justifiably proud that the state hit a near-record 538 adoptions finalized last year, exceeded only by 572 in 2008.

The number has averaged 532 in recent years, up from about half that in 1995-2005. While it is unfortunate so many children need to go through the adoption process, the fact that so many have found permanent homes is a positive.

One hundred and fifty of 2017 adoptions were finalized on Nov. 18, Adoption Day, with special celebrations, often including family members when the goal of reunification has been achieved.

Other cases include “kinship,” where the child has a significant relationship with the individual, such as a neighbor, teacher or foster home, prior to the placement.

All prospective families complete background checks, including Child Central Registry, Adult Central Registry, sex offender, state patrol and FBI checks. A home study is completed to determine whether the lacement is appropriate, safe, and meets the needs of the child. A walk through of the home is also completed prior to placement.

“Permanency, our primary goal, includes reunification, adoption, guardianship or independent living,” said Nanette Simmons, Administrator of the Division of Children and Family Services.

“It means collaborating with biological parents, judges, attorneys, guardians ad litem, foster parents, adoptive parents and service providers, to ensure the placement is in the best interests of the child.”

It’s also work that wouldn’t happen without the efforts of DHHS’s permanency teams throughout the state. The groups carefully evaluate the fit for children and their prospective families.

“We have a lot of great workers here (at the department),” Simmons said, adding that the adoptive and foster families who take in the children are also invaluable.

Adopted children range in age from one to 18 years old, and the length of time in the system varies from months to years.

Perhaps there’s room in your heart for a new member in your family. Call 1-800-7PARENT (1-800-772-7368) for more information.

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