Baker County will pay the Baker School District $300 per day from the county’s share of federal COVID-19 aid to provide child care for county employees’ children, from grades K-8, while they are taking all online classes.

County Commissioners on Wednesday approved an agreement with the Baker School District.

The deal will be on a month-by-month basis, said Commissioner Mark Bennett, who is also serving as the county’s incident commander during the coronavirus pandemic.

The agreement starts Tuesday, Sept. 8, the first day of all-online classes for Baker students.

The school district will supply employees to care for children from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Nazarene Church.

Bennett said the county’s priority is for students from kindergarten through sixth grade.

Child care will be available for students in grades 7 or 8 “on a case-by-case basis,” according to the agreement.

The contract calls for the county to pay the school district $150 per day per classroom, and Bennett said there will be two classrooms.

He said workers at the child care center will not be teaching students. Students will be attending online classes while they are at the child care center.

Bennett said county employees who have children younger than kindergarten age will have to make other arrangements for child care, as the contract with the school district only applies to students from K-8.

The federal money from the CARES Act — the county has received about $569,000 — can be used for child care for employees’ children only as it relates to “comprehensive distance learning,” another term for online classes, Bennett said.

The county could also use the money to hire temporary replacement employees so workers with children can stay home while their kids are taking online classes, but Bennett said commissioners don’t think that’s a viable option.

One reason, he said, is that the county couldn’t easily replace, even temporarily, critical workers such as sheriff’s deputies and emergency dispatchers, who require state-approved training.

During the spring, when Baker students also attended online classes only, Bennett said some county employees struggled to make sure their children were being cared for, including on school days.

Some employees had to bring their children to work on some days, and others exhausted their personal leave, he said.

“It wasn’t a good deal,” Bennett said.

He said the county faced the same dilemma that other public agencies, private businesses and individual families have since the pandemic started in March.

“We’re no worse off than anyone else,” Bennett said. “As an employer, we have an obligation to help our employees.”

He said county officials didn’t confirm with federal and state officials until after the school year ended that CARES Act money could be used to pay for child care for employees’ children who are taking online classes.

Bennett said the county’s contract with the school district will end as soon as students return to in-person classes.

The Baker School Board decided in August to have online classes for all students for at least the first nine weeks. Bennett said the county’s goal is to help the district potentially return at least some students to classes sooner than that.

In other business Wednesday, commissioners:

• approved a drought disaster declaration, asking Gov. Kate Brown to add Baker County to the list of 14 other counties on the drought emergency list. That would allow the Oregon Water Resources Department to be more flexible in allowing farmers and ranchers to use water, including groundwater, and the county declaration could make local landowners eligible for federal aid.

• decided to create a committee to review plans to remodel a Fourth Street building the county bought earlier this summer as a new headquarters for the Baker County Health Department.

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