Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Chris Collins


The Baker School Board adopted the district's 2012-13 budget with little hoopla despite a split 3-2 vote Tuesday night.

Directors Kyle Knight and Jim Longwell voted against the proposed budget.

Knight also voted against approval of the permanent property tax rate to support schools.

That rate remains unchanged from year to year at $4.6051 per $1,000 of assessed value on all taxable property within the district.

Knight cast the lone no vote when it went before the 10-member budget board for approval on May 22. The budget board includes the five board members and five community representatives.

Doug Dalton, the district's chief financial officer, said Tuesday night that the $22,769,073 budget - including a general fund budget of $16,673,316 - had changed little since the budget board approved it May 22.

"We've presentationed this to death," Dalton said as Burroughs opened the budget hearing at the start of the regular meeting.

"The (latest) economic forecast was pretty flat," he said. "There's no news since you guys approved it that would drive us to change the budget."

Knight and Longwell both said today that they voted against the budget because of the limited time spend reviewing the proposal.

"I'm quite embarrassed about how the process went this year," Knight said.

Longwell said he was especially surprised to see the resolution asking the board to approve a total budget of $22 million when the budget board discussions focused only on the general fund budget of $16 million.

At Tuesday's session, Dalton noted that he did review the special fund revenue and pointed out that the additional money is federal funding designated for specific purposes.

Still Longwell, who said he has worked with large corporate budgets in the past, was caught off guard by the larger figure.

"I thought it was a $16 million budget," he said today. "It seems like there's $6 million that no one's talking about.

"I didn't understand it and I didn't feel good about voting on it."

Longwell said he was surprised when he read the total budget figure included in the packet of information directors receive before each meeting.

"I'd sure like to know more about something like that then what I knew," he said. "It hit me by surprise. I thought it was a typo."

The other three board members voted in favor of the budget Tuesday: Lynne Burroughs, chair; Mark Henderson; and Andrew Bryan, who appeared via computer video link from California.

There was no public comment on the spending plan.

The budget vote came near the end of Tuesday's 90-minute meeting. There was no heated discussion such as has characterized several past board sessions.

Knight and Longwell have been on the minority end of several 3-2 votes since they took office in July 2011, including the censure of Knight by the majority of the board in April after they determined that he had released confidential employee information to the media.

Both men noted that Tuesday's meeting ran smoothly unlike some of the past sessions.

Knight and Henderson, who also was sworn in a year ago, even agreed to serve on a two-person subcommittee to consider ways of expanding the district's staff appreciation program.

Knight initially shied away from joining Henderson's effort because of a misunderstanding about the intent of the subcommittee, but later agreed to join the subcommittee.

Knight opposed a district achievement compact with the state that has not yet been finalized. Superintendent Walt Wegener asked the board to give its approval to the document with additional information to be added as it becomes available in order to meet a July 1 deadline with the state.

As part of the compact, the district agrees to work toward preparing 40 percent of its students to earn bachelor's degrees, 40 percent to earn associate degrees and 20 percent to graduate from high school by 2025 as part of Gov. John Kitzhaber's educational improvement plan.

The state will use the compacts, which are being sought from each of Oregon's 197 school districts, to seek a waiver allowing Oregon to opt out of the requirements of the federal school improvement law.

Without the waiver, most districts in the state would fall into noncompliance with the federal law and face funding penalties, Wegener said.

"Rather then have the hammer land in 2014, they're gonna move the hammer out to 2025," he said.

Knight said he also was unhappy that the board had little time to consider the compacts and was required to act on such short notice.

Knight said he is skeptical about state funding for the plan.

"There's is no reason to not give us that information beforehand so we could discuss the issues or reformulate the motion to make it more acceptable," he said.

In other business, Daniel Huld, director of the Baker Web Academy and Early College, updated the board on the progress of the district's charter schools. Huld introduced Ben Merrill, a 1997 Baker High School graduate, who has been hired as the program's principal.

Huld said the Baker Web Academy, which was started in the winter of 2009 has been serving about 300 students for the last few years. That includes about 100 students in kindergarten through eighth grade and 200 students in Grades 9-12.

The program employes 12 FTE (full-time equivalent) teachers; 1.5 FTE support positions; and 1.8 administrators.

Huld, who lives in the Portland area, said he drove about 15,000 miles last year on behalf of the Web Academy and Early College program to provide the face-to-face contact that parents say they want in a program. Teachers also make home visits to support their students throughout Oregon.

"Through the sponsorship of our school, you're literally educating kids all over the state," Huld told the board.

Eighteen students from the program walked as part of a graduation ceremony in Portland this spring, he said.

Other special programs to bring students together throughout the year included an outdoor school at Eagle Creek, a snowshoe event that taught outdoor survival skills at Mount Hood and a science field day at Eugene.

Students attending the Baker Web Academy also earned about 600 college credits, Huld said.