Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Small school supporters take case to court; successful petition effort still would not reverse school consolidation measure until after November 06 election and the damage will have occurred by then Lincoln Journal Star Wednesday, October 26, 2005 If Nebraska voters are to have a real choice on school consolidation, the courts must intervene, according to supporters of small schools. Class I’s United, a group representing small elementary-only school districts, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Lancaster County District Court to stop mandated school consolidations until after a November 2006 statewide vote on the issue, said Mike Nolles, one of several dozen supporters at a news conference Tuesday. A hearing on the first step — a temporary injunction halting the merger process — is scheduled for Monday in Lancaster County District Court, said Don Stenberg, an attorney representing the group. Class I supporters gathered enough signatures to force a statewide election on a new law that requires all elementary-only districts to merge with K-12 districts. But the merger process will be finished by June 15, 2006, almost five months before the vote. Class I supporters were not able to gather enough signatures to automatically stop the process, but they argue the courts must intervene in this “unique situation.” The temporary injunction would stop the process while the case for a permanent injunction winds through the courts. Supporters are using four arguments to support their case, Stenberg said: The new law, LB126, eliminates all Class 1 districts before the election and thus hinders voters from deciding the referendum issue — whether Class I schools should continue to exist. The state Supreme Court has repeatedly said legislation hindering or obstructing the referendum process is unconstitutional, Stenberg said. Finishing the mergers before the vote violates state and U.S. constitutional rights guaranteeing the right to cast an effective vote. Nebraskans cannot have a statewide ballot issue that is an advisory vote. And in practical terms, the November vote would be advisory because the mergers will have occurred, Stenberg said. The Supreme Court should reconsider a past decision that required successful ballot measures to be signed by 5 percent or 10 percent of registered voters, rather than the same percentages of the number of people who voted in the last governor’s election, a smaller number. If the lower number were used, Class I supporters would have enough petition signatures to automatically stop the law from taking effect until after the election.

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