Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Chris Collins


Modular buildings will be added to the grounds of Brooklyn Primary School next year to make room for kindergartners.

The plan, which could see as many as four modulars purchased by the district in the next two years, was approved by the Baker School Board Tuesday night.

The decision came at the end of a special meeting that lasted just a little more than 90 minutes. About 30 people, mostly elementary teachers and administrators from all levels, gathered in the audience to hear the discussion and the decision.

Superintendent Walt Wegener said today that the estimated cost of the modular buildings, including transporting them, building a foundation to place them on, installing water, lights and safety features and buying furniture will be $300,000 to $350,000.

The district has been considering how to best handle the state Department of Education's mandate to provide full-day kindergarten classes by 2015 since July of 2011, Wegener said today.

The approval to buy the modular buildings will allow Wegener and his administrative team to begin to act on the plan, he said.

A change in the state funding formula that will better account for students living at the poverty level will help pay for the modular buildings by bringing an estimated additional $300,000 to the district, he said.

At the board's direction, the district will offer an enhanced kindergarten program next year and work toward complying with the 2015 full-day mandate. A fourth modular, which would be used as a cafeteria and music room would not be added unless state funding is available to sustain a full-day kindergarten program, Wegener said.

Kindergarten enrollment is expected to remain at its current level of 137 students next year, Wegener said.

That total includes 21 at Haines Elementary and four at Keating.

Board Chairman Andrew Bryan and directors Kevin Cassidy, who attended Tuesday's session by phone, and Mark Henderson approved the plan to place the modulars at Brooklyn.

Director Kyle Knight voted no, saying he disapproved of buying the structures when space is available at the former North Baker School building.

"Using taxpayer dollars to purchase modulars, that's the kind of stuff that keeps a bond from passing in Baker," Knight said. "I personally see it as reckless, especially when we don't know what full-day kindergarten is going to be and how it's framed."

Cassidy countered that he believes it would be "reckless to not enhance the experience of our students," by moving the kindergartners out of their present classrooms in a wing at Baker High School and making way for career and technical programs for high school students in that space.

Teachers and administrators have stressed the need to return the students and staff to a building housing their peers, and the high school has received grant money to help expand vocational training.

Kindergartners had been housed in their neighborhood schools until the buildings were restructured by grade-level in 2009. The district closed the former North Baker Elementary School that year and since has used the building to house the Baker Web Academy, Baker Early College, the Eagle Cap innovative high school and other programs.

Director Richard McKim abstained from voting on the issue of purchasing the modular buildings for the Brooklyn site.

Before the final motion was approved, McKim proposed transferring sixth-graders to North Baker and shuffling other students in a "domino effect." Knight seconded the motion. The motion and second later were withdrawn after Cassidy convinced the two that they were acting outside their authority as board members with such a specific motion.

Wegener advised the directors that their role, under district policy, is to authorize space and cost. The specific organization of the district is up to administrators.

Cassidy acknowledged the policy, but added that the board has expressed its desire to be involved in the process.

He then moved to buy as many as four modulars and to allocate the money to accommodate moving kindergartners.

McKim declined to state a reason for abstaining on that vote when asked by Bryan during the meeting.

Afterward, however, McKim said he brought up the option of using space at North Baker simply to demonstrate to the audience that other options had been considered.

"I'm the loyal opposition," he said, adding that he will support the majority vote to buy the modular buildings.

"This school board has not had a lot of time for its scabs and scars to heal. We're still a unified entity," McKim said, of his reluctance to vote against the plan.

McKim and Cassidy were elected to the board in May 2013 and began their four-year terms July 1. The former board was criticized by some for its inability to work together.

In other business, the board approved a 2014-15 school calendar that follows this year's schedule based on a four-day student week.

Knight voted against the plan after stating his disapproval of the district using some Fridays as makeup days for weeks that include a Monday holiday.

"My preference would be adding to the end of the year rather than Friday," he said.

Prior to the vote, Wegener explained that the district moved to a four-day week to preserve programs in the wake of declining state revenue caused by the recession.

By operating on a four-day student week and adding an hour to the school day, the time students spend in classes was increased from 845 "quality" hours per year to 982 "quality" hours per year, Wegener said. Elective programs were preserved and class sizes were kept at acceptable levels.

The district has provided some tutoring for students who need extra help on Fridays and the day off allows them to attend other programs such as special ski days at Anthony Lakes.

Teachers can use Fridays for professional development and collaboration without taking time away from their classes. And the day without students provides extra prep time.

Bryan, who was appointed to fill an unexpired term on the board that hired Wegener, said the superintendent was given a specific set of goals when he came to the district. Directors were considering a move to a full-year schedule, with emphasis on preserving art, music, drama and small sports before state funding was reduced.

"We had discussed creative ways to expand opportunities until we were faced with the reality that we were going to have to cut millions of dollars," Wegener said.

The proposed four-day 2014-15 calendar was accepted by a majority of the staff and parents also have expressed support for the system, he added.