Even before Gov. Kate Brown’s Tuesday announcement extending public school closures through April 28, the Baker School District had decided to withdraw its $7.5 million school bond measure from the May 19 ballot.
The Baker School Board made the decision during a special meeting Monday, said Superintendent Mark Witty.
“The Board does not believe that it was prudent or the right thing to do,” Witty said of the decision to postpone the measure in light of concern for the additional financial burden it would have placed on the Baker community as effects of the coronavirus pandemic continue to unfold.
“This just isn’t the right time,” he said. “We’ve got higher priorities to consider for the betterment of our community.”
By withdrawing the bond measure, the District also will be giving up a $4 million Oregon School Capital Improvement Match grant it would have received had the bond measure passed.
The District will not be eligible to apply for the matching state grant again in time for the November election. That delays the District’s plan to seek funding for school improvements until the May 2021 election.
In the meantime, the District will use some of the school funding approved by the 2019 Legislature to pay for safety and security improvements at all buildings. Plans to implement an early learning center to be housed at the North Baker school building also will move forward, Witty said.
“All our data points demonstratively to a pretty high need for a high quality preschool program and quality child care,” he said. “That has an impact on kindergarten.”
Witty said the early learning center’s programs will work to close the gap between youngsters starting school without access to health care, child care and early educational opportunities, and their peers who have a leg up because of their family circumstances.
Even before the governor announced the extension of school closures, Witty said the District already had begun considering, at the governor’s direction, how to best meet day care needs for health care and first responder workers.
“I’m hoping we can figure out a way to assist critical workers who help keep us safe,” Witty said Tuesday.
That would include children of workers at the fire department, health department, the jail, 9-1-1 dispatch center, and city, county and state police officers.
The District is looking at caring for 40 to 50 children, from birth to third grade, in the self-contained modular buildings at Brooklyn Primary School. The modulars would be disinfected nightly and children would be rotated in small numbers through the playground as part of the schedule, which would be set to accommodate emergency service providers who work all shifts. Parents would deliver the children curbside to the buildings.
“We think this would be a really reasonable approach for us to take,” Witty said.
The District would enlist help from its early learning partners to care for infants and preschoolers, he said.
“We’ll be doing it in a manner that is as safe as possible and isolating groups into small numbers,” he said.
The District, with the help of community volunteers, also is serving free meals to everyone 18 and younger Monday through Friday.
Witty said he might be seeking help from the District’s certified staff as the time off continues. Employment contracts will remain in place during the break.
In a press release announcing the extended time off for staff and students, Witty stated that the District is working to develop supplemental plans to meet the educational needs of all students.
Seniors will be the highest priority as Baker High School works to ensure the students meet graduation requirements, Witty said.
The focus will be on meeting core curriculum requirements for all high school students, he said.
“Be assured we’re going to get credits earned and keep moving forward,” Witty said.
Witty said that will include some online instruction and at the lower grade levels, supplemental learning materials will be available.
“Additional information will be forthcoming as we develop viable strategies for students and their families to meet the educational needs of their children,” he stated in the press release. “
Witty noted the sacrifices that are being made by children and families as the state and the nation work to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
He pointed to the BHS girls basketball team, which didn’t get a chance to defend its state basketball championship.
A student trip to Vietnam over spring break also was canceled and spring sports seasons and other activities are being delayed or canceled.
“Those are some of the sacrifices all of us are going to have to make for the betterment of the community and for the protection of our parents and grandparents,” Witty said.