Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Chris Collins


Whether Superintendent Walt Wegener considered community input in his plan to reconfigure school classrooms was a point of contention when the Baker School Board met Tuesday night.

Director Kyle Knight voiced his displeasure with the lack of board involvement in the process.

Community members Richard McKim and Mike Ogan said they don't believe their input was considered in the final decision and that their participation was, in their view, a waste of time.

And all three said they believed Wegener had his mind made up on the course the plan would take even before a group of about 55 district staff and community members began to discuss the issue.

Lynne Burroughs, board chair, said during a board work session Tuesday that it is the superintendent's job to make decisions regarding which students would attend classes in which buildings and how the staff would be aligned to accommodate that plan.

"The board's job is one of oversight," she said.

Burroughs and Knight represented the board on the task force.

"We are participating because I think it's really important for every board member to know what is going on," she told Knight during Tuesday's discussion. "We need to know the causes that drive this. We need to understand the reasons for the choices, the reasons for grouping certain grades together as opposed to other groupings."

Burroughs pointed to the large group that worked to develop the plan that calls for moving kindergartners from a wing of Baker High School to Brooklyn Primary School by the fall of 2014.

That move would then prompt the transfer of third-graders from Brooklyn to South Baker Intermediate School. Sixth-graders would move to Baker Middle School.

Still undecided, according to Wegener's report, is how to accommodate the added number of students at the middle school. Alternatives include placing modular classrooms on the middle school grounds and "segregated use" of high school classrooms for electives in music and shop classes.

(Mindi Vaughan, Baker Middle School principal, told th board her staff is opposed to busing students to the high school for classes, which would cut 20 to 25 minutes from each class period.)

Knight said he understood that the task force was formed to report to the board and that the board would then approve the plan it liked best. Instead, he said, Wegener appeared to be in charge of the process from start to finish.

"It was one path, directed down one path and sold on one path the whole time," Knight said. "We're just here for show. Just to stamp right through what he had approved."

Burroughs pointed to the 55 people who worked to develop the plan in disagreeing with Knight's assertion that Wegener did not consider input from others.

"We have the opportunity to look at this tonight, ask questions, make sure we understand the changes that have been made - because there have been some," Burroughs said. "I've had plenty of input. I brought my input here and I put it in Walt's ear and we have some changes that are a result of that input."

Knight said that the advice from the Feb. 21 task force meeting was for the district to start over in developing a plan.

"My understanding was that we were going to relook at the majority report," he said.

Burroughs countered that there were just seven or eight people in the room during that session who were calling for the planning to start over.

"Seven or eight who had not been involved in the rest of the meetings," she said. "That part of the minority group does not have any business trumping a 55-member group."

Knight continued to maintain that the plan was decided before any task force meetings were scheduled.

"It's not true," Wegener said, as the two bantered back and forth.

Wegener said comments gleaned from task force meetings influenced his final decision.

"This is quite different from what I would have done had I been left alone," he said.

The reconfiguraton of classrooms was necessitated by the state's requirement that Oregon schools implement all-day kindergarten by 2015, he said.

But Knight continued to voice his displeasure with the way the process unfolded.

"I resent it as a task force plan because it is not," Knight said.

He said today that he was not necessarily against the plan itself.

"I go back to the process and how it was played out," Knight said.

During the public comment segment of Tuesday's regular board meeting, McKim agreed that Wegener appeared to ignore the task force recommendation to start over.

He urged the board to take some time to consider other options, such as moving kindergartners to the North Baker School building rather than to Brooklyn.

"I would be glad to compare it and show which is better," McKim said.

But Wegener said today that the North Baker building is not the best solution, nor would it provide a permanent solution, for housing kindergartners.

"We seriously considered North," Wegener said. "But the most important thing is that putting kindergartners by themselves at North or with the Web Academy andEagle Cap (innovative high school) is not the best instructional option.

"North is a weak choice because of the instructional point of view," he said.

McKim said he understood Wegener to say at the Feb. 21 meeting that the task force would recommend the "best answer" to the board.

"Which is it?" he asked. "The best or the most popular?"

McKim accused the district of using the task force as a vehicle for pitching the reconfiguration plan in the community.

"If this is just a sales job to the public ... someone needs to say so," he told the board.

Ogan had similar concerns.

"It was clear Mr. Wegener had a predetermined decision," he said. "Any opposition was quickly shot down."

Wegener said today that he will proceed with preparing for the proposed changes as he outlined them to the board for implementation in 2014.

That will allow time to get the information out to parents through parent-teacher conferences, registration days, the district newsletter and reports in the local media.

In other business, Tuesday night, the board agreed to have Doug Dalton, the district's chief financial officer, meet with Doug Dean, who is leading a coalition of people interested in taking ownership of the Central Building for use as a community-based center.

The district closed the 96-year-old Central Building in 2009 and has listed it as surplus property and tried to sell it without success.

Community resident Kevin Cassidy, who plans to run for a seat on the school board in the May election, cautioned the board about moving too quickly to make a deal on the building. Cassidy said that while he supports Dean's plan to convert it to a community center, he believes the school district should do more research before transferring ownership of the property.