South Omaha Community Forum

Over 50 local community members gathered at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church on Saturday, August 26th to discuss the last legislative session and upcoming issues. Nebraska State Senator Tony Vargas organized the event to connect local community members with their elected representatives in South Omaha.

Other elected representatives that were present included Nebraska State Senator Mike McDonnell, Omaha City Councilman Vinny Palermo, Omaha Public Schools Board members Lacey Merica and Tracy Casady, County Commissioner Mike Boyle and Metro Community College Board of Governors members Roger Garcia and Kara Eastman.

Senator Vargas shared with community members that during this last legislative session his priority bill was LB427, a bill that would authorize schools and the State Department of Education to adopt policies relating to pregnant and parenting students. The bill in essence would require Nebraska K-12 public, private and parochial schools to provide a place for students to pump breast milk. The bill, which passed in a 37-7 vote in May, is designed to help pregnant students finish school by providing necessary accommodations for pregnant teenage mothers. Vargas pointed out that he expects this newly implemented law to reduce truancy rates in Nebraska.

Chair of the Metro Community College Board of Governors, Roger Garcia, was excited to talk to the crowd about all of the improvements and projects Metro Community College has been focused on this past year.  Garcia mentioned that Metro uses various funding streams including state aid, tuition dollars and property tax dollars to fund the four county-wide college. Metro has a 100-million-dollar general fund budget. “We serve Sarpy, Douglas, Dodge and Washington Counties. We have the largest community college system in Nebraska,” said Garcia.

“We are one of the top community colleges across the country, it’s amazing that we have this incredible beacon of hope in our community,” said Vice-Chair Kara Eastman, adding “Roger and I are consistently amazed with what Metro does!”

“I find it so amazing that the wide-spectrum of our students are diverse in age and race. We have some students that are dual-enrolled and finishing high school with an associate’s degree,” said Garcia, adding “they are ahead of the game when they go off to college.”  Garcia and Eastman pointed out that they don’t just serve traditional students seeking a degree, they have a variety of classes for business owners and community members that are just looking to take a class or two to learn something new or for fun in their spare time. Garcia said that Metro offers a 50 percent discount to seniors and even offer summer classes for kids.

“We are opening up three new buildings on our Fort campus, we have the Academic Skill Center, Constructed Education Center and the Center for Emerging Technologies, said Eastman. “These building are beautiful and we invite you to come and see them, the advancement in technology that we are able to provide our students is unbelievable. Facebook for example came to Omaha in part because of our new Data Center. Metro is constantly ahead of the curb of what we are trying to do in terms of providing the highest quality of education we can,” said Eastman.

As of last year Metro Community College had a little over 25,000 students that took credit classes, 20,000 that took non-credit classes and all together they serve about 45,000 students in the four-county area that took a class toward their goal. “We served this many students with only 4 percent of taxpayer money, the trade-off is very good for what we are investing into the college,” concluded Garcia.

After 15 minute sessions with elected representatives that were paired in teams of two the entire audience participated in a group discussion with their elected representatives. Senator Vargas hopes to host more of these community forums in the future.
Liz Codina

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