A Belated Tribute to Barbara Baker.
There are very few people still involved with SEE whose service dates back to the era when Barbara Baker was leading the organization. Back in 1979, Barbara's management company--Baker Research & Consulting--ran the organization and run it she did. I first met Barbara when I was on Senate Education Committee staff in the late-1980s and I had the pleasure working for her in my first years as a lobbyist in the early-1990s. To say Barbara was a tenacious advocate for the cause of funding equity understates the case. She never raised her voice, but she always got her point across firmly and politely. Barbara was at the helm when the members of SEE (then known as the Association for Stable or Growing School Districts--ASGSD) comprised the plaintiffs in the Skeen v. Minnesota lawsuit and that was an extremely arduous task and one she performed with her usual aplomb. That effort was an organizational challenge, but Barbara saw the organization through the successful district court decision (in which the plaintiffs won) and the subsequent reversal by the Minnesota Supreme Court. The day the Supreme Court decision came down, Barbara was disappointed, but refused to sulk. The same day we had a press statement ready to go and managed somehow to maintain control over discussion of the issue. No small task, but there was no task that Barbara found too daunting.
On a personal note, I know I wouldn't be where I am today without Barbara and ASGSD taking a chance on me. Barbara provided me with a lot of guidance on the how-to's of lobbying. I had an extensive background in the legislative process and a pretty good handle of education finance when I was brought on board, but I lacked the finesse that a good lobbyist needs to succeed and Barbara served as a mentor in helping me acquire those skills. I will never forget when Barbara and I were meeting with a high-ranking official in Governor Carlson's office to discuss his line-item veto of the first debt service equalization appropriation. I attempted to explain what we were trying to accomplish when the official stopped me and said something to the effect "Well, that's socialism." In my younger days, I could go from zero-to-sixty in the spirited debate department and, after the initial shock of the statement, I was about to blow up. Barbara could see the steam coming out of my ears and before I could say anything, she took control of the conversation and, as was her style, calmly disagreed with the official. We left the meeting in good shape and afterwards had a good laugh about how I had avoided an embarrassing, and perhaps damaging, situation. It was one of the many lessons I learned from working with Barbara.
It's not just me that benefited from Barbara's expertise and ability. People are surprised to learn that the MSBA Delegate Assembly would almost break out in riots--rhetorical and otherwise--when the Skeen lawsuit was in court. The lawsuit divided school districts in a lot of ways and there were tons of hotly-contested resolutions that were specific and which had winners and losers in terms of the proposed policy effects. Barbara worked the floor of those sessions and was a magnificent vote-counter. Those efforts helped keep the equity issue front-and-center in the education funding debate and whatever progress we have made over the almost 40 years that SEE has been in existence are built on the foundation that Barbara and the early SEE pioneers carefully and firmly laid in place.
Here is a link to Barbara's obituary from the StarTribune: Barbara Anne (Brooke) Baker Obituary