Senator looking for fair shake for small schools

Wednesday, January 5, 2005

In the 2005 session of the Nebraska Legislature, State Sen. Tom Baker of Trenton will be working with other lawmakers to get a fair shake for small school districts.

"Some school districts are small by necessity," he said, giving Dundy County as an example. With just over 2,000 population, the county must provide educational opportunities, but consolidation with other districts is impractical because of the distances involved.

Pointing to Dundy County's situation and other similar cases in Western Nebraska, Sen. Baker said senators see a need to re-work the school aid formula. "We need to be responsive to the needs of the schools," he said. "Sometimes, a cold-hearted aid formula is not the answer."

As a step in the direction of revising the aid formula, the chairman of the Nebraska Legislature's Education Committee, Ron Raikes, came to Trenton in December to meet with representatives of area schools. Baker, who joined the education committee chairman for those meetings, said the input will be valuable as the legislature begins an attempt to rewrite the school aid formula.

Sen. Baker spoke to the Gazette by telephone, just minutes before the opening of the session. "I don't know how many senators will make it," he said. "The snow is pretty heavy and road conditions are not the best."

There was a quorom, however, and one of the legislature's first acts was to elect Kermit Brashear of Omaha as speaker. He had little opposition as Roger Wehrbein has withdrawn his name from consideration.

Also today, committee chairs were to be chosen, with Sen. Baker expected to be re-elected to lead the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee.

Once again, Baker predicts money will be the major topic of the legislative session. It always is ... whether it's about how to raise it or how to spend it.

Among the considerations will be business incentives, which Baker says need to be expanded. "If we are going to grow this state, we must encourage development," he said.

Throughout the session, Sen. Baker will have teleconferences with the Legislative Committee of the McCook Chamber of Commerce. The first of the conferences will be Thursday, Jan. 13, at the Chamber office.

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