Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Chris Collins


Baker School Board members agreed Tuesday night that the district should step back from any plans to establish a one-stop service center for children and families at the North Baker Education Center.

More details are needed before moving forward with any plans, the directors stated, after hearing from two women coordinating the efforts.

Amy Johnson of Wallowa County, director of the Building Healthy Families program, and Kelly Poe of Malheur County, who is coordinating the three-county application to the state seeking designation as an early learning hub, attended a work session and continued their discussion with the board after the regular meeting got under way.

Johnson explained that Building Healthy Families is serving 432 families in Baker, Union and Wallowa counties.

The nonprofit organization provides education and support for families through programs such as home visits to first-time families, matching children with mentors through the Youth Enrichment Project and sponsoring parent and family education services.

The Eastern Oregon Community Based Service Hub, on the other hand, is a collaborative effort of Baker, Wallowa and Malheur counties to support children and families, Poe said, with the goal of removing duplication of services, filling gaps and improving efficiency.

Money for the hub will come from state sources that in the past had gone to the Commission on Children and Families, she said. The CCF is no longer operating in Oregon counties.

The Malheur County Education Service District, with Poe as hub director, is leading the application process to qualify for the hub designation. Seven hubs will be designated as demonstration projects by November. Nine more will be established next year.

"It is the intent of the state that all of the state will be in some kind of a hub," Superintendent Walt Wegener told the board.

Counties can participate in the organizational process or the state will place them in a hub without their participation, Wegener said.

Baker, Wallowa and Malheur counties will benefit from sharing strategies that have been successful as they work to better prepare children for kindergarten and to establish safe and stable families, Poe said.

"We're going to have a greater menu available, just because we're going to share," she said.

As the hub director, Poe will remain housed in the Malheur County ESD office at Vale. Her salary is paid through the Malheur County ESD, she said.

If the Baker 5J board were to agree to allow Building Healthy Families to share space with other district programs at the North Baker building, it would be just one component of the Eastern Oregon Early Learning Hub.

In considering the issue Tuesday, Director Richard McKim said he believes the superintendent had taken too much of the lead in moving the project forward.

He referred to newspaper articles stating that the North Baker building already had been approved as the one-stop site for services.

"Stories about where the one-stop will be are premature at best," McKim said.

He pointed to board policy that states the board is responsible for making decisions about use of district property.

"We vote on milk and bread contracts," McKim said. "We will vote on this.

"I need complete information. I don't feel like I've got it right now. I have the ice cream," McKim said.

Directors Kyle Knight, Mark Henderson, Kevin Cassidy and Andrew Bryan, board chair, agreed that more information is needed.

Knight also expressed concern about the process and said he believes other buildings in the community might provide a better site than the North Baker building.

Bryan summarized the discussion.

"What I hear, if I was trying to draw consensus from the board, I think we're somewhere between no and maybe - and maybe on a shorter term - but also we maybe don't have enough information," he said.