Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Chris Collins


The last Baker School Board meeting of the fiscal year ended with none of the acrimony that has nearly become the board's trademark over the past year.

The five board members cast a unanimous ballot to approve the proposed 2013-14 budget totaling $24,837,669 and unanimously approved other resolutionsand personnel changes during the meeting that lasted about an hour.

Director Kyle Knight, who has been at the center of much of the controversy, including a lawsuit he filed against the district last year, cast just one "no" vote Tuesday night.

Knight voted against the proposed administrator and teacher evaluation handbooks and assurances that will be presented to the Oregon Department of Education.

Knight said after the meeting that he voted against the plans because they are not linked to salary increases.

"I believe that a performance-based system that is not associated with pay is no performance-based system at all," he said.

Knight said he will be conducting further research on the issue of merit pay.

The new evaluation system was developed as a requirement of Senate Bill 290 passed in the 2011 legislative session.

Wegener said the law requires that educators' evaluations "for the first time ever" be tied to student performance.

"It does make educators a little nervous," Wegener said.

The evaluation plans include principals, who have direct contact with students, but it does not include others such as the superintendent, curriculum director and licensed staff members who don't work with students.

In negotiations with the Baker Education Association, language has been included to allow the evaluation system to be used for counselors and other specialists, although that is not part of the law, Wegener said.

The plans require employees to establish goals, with at least two tied to student growth based on test results.

The evaluation process will begin with administrators visiting classrooms to get the students used to seeing them there, Wegener said. Teachers also will be involved in "learning walks" in which they visit other teachers' classrooms as a professional development tool, he said.

Conferences with administrators and a written report of what they observed during unannounced "drop-in" visits to classrooms also will be provided.

The plans also call for formal observations, which include a preliminary conference and an announced visit to the classroom for observation of the teacher's performance.

Teachers will be rated by administrators based on their goals, the performance of their students and information gathered during classroom visits, Wegener said.

Teachers who do not meet proficiency goals will be placed on plans of improvement and those who have not met the goals for the improvement plans will be notified by Feb. 23 that their contracts will not be renewed, Wegener said.

Probationary teachers will undergo full evaluations for each of the three years they remain on probation. Contract teachers, those who have completed their probation terms, will get a formal evaluation every other year. On the off years, they still will be required to set goals and will be evaluated on those goals, Wegener said.

"It's intended to make teachers better and at the same time give us accountability of what is going on," he said.

Lynne Burroughs, board chair and a retired teacher, expressed concern for district employees as the evaluation process changes.

"Your teaching staff is going to need a lot of support," she said. "This is huge."

Wegener added that administrators, especially, are going to be under added pressure as they roll out the new system.

"We're actually going to gather evidence," Wegener said.

That's opposed to the former system, which in many cases, resulted in most teachers being rated "excellent," he said.

As a result of Senate Bill 290, there must be documentation to show why a teacher or administrator received a high score on his or her evaluation, Wegener said.

In other business Tuesday night, Wegener and other board members honored Burroughs and Jim Longwell, who are retiring from the board.

Burroughs is going off the board after eight years of service. In the May 21 election, voters chose Richard McKim to fill her seat.

Longwell, who joined Knight in a minority vote during much of his two-year term on the board, will be replaced by Kevin Cassidy, who lives in the Rock Creek area near Haines.

Wegener thanked Burroughs and Longwell for their service and presented them with a token of appreciation from the district.

Anthony Johnson, the district's curriculum director, also thanked the outgoing board members.

Johnson, who has worked in education for the past 31 years and whose father was a superintendent for 18 years, says he has seen many boards over the course of that time.

"It's a thankless job," he said. "I want to extend my appreciation and that of the administrative team ... for your contributions to the community and on behalf of our teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators and particularly our students ... we thank you very much."

In his report to the board, Doug Dalton, the district's chief financial officer who also oversees maintenance, transportation and food services, said renovation of the Haines School is nearing completion. The school sustained extensive water damage in November when an overhead sprinkler system malfunctioned. Most of the classrooms were moved to the North Baker Campus for the remainder of the year and will be returning to Haines when the work is finished.

A new roof is being installed at the Baker Middle School this summer and flooring will be replaced at South Baker and Keating schools, Dalton said.

Wegener said negotiations with the teachers union are on hold while the Legislature continues to work toward an agreement on the proposed education budget and reform of the public employees' pension plan. Wegener said emails he received Tuesday stated that the Legislature hopes to tie up the session by July 3, but it could continue its work through July 13.