We won’t try to minimize the Baker School District’s $48 million bond measure by dividing property owners’ shares into monthly or weekly or daily amounts.
This isn’t about passing up a few mochas or tossing your pocket change into a cup.
This is about a community’s commitment to one of its more important and valuable assets — its public schools.
And like most commitments it is also a burden. A financial burden, to be specific, and for some property owners a significant burden that probably will continue for 30 years, the period over which the bond would be repaid.
But we believe the Baker School District has reached a point where that shared burden is one worth bearing.
We urge voters to approve Measure 1-88 on the Nov. 6 ballot, making it possible to build a new school for students in grades 1-6, remodel Baker High School to accommodate seventh- and eighth-graders, and improve the energy efficiency and security systems at all district schools, among other projects.
Put simply, there is no feasible way besides a property tax-supported bond measure to build a new school, which would account for the majority — an estimated $37 million — of the bond revenue.
This is no less true today than it was in 1948, the last time the district’s voters decided to increase property taxes to build schools.
The 1948 measure raised money to build four schools over the next seven years — Brooklyn and South Baker elementary schools, as well as Keating School and Baker High School (much of the current high school was built in 1990-91, after a February 1989 fire destroyed a significant portion of the previous building).
We believe the taxpayers’ investment over the past 70 years has been an excellent one. Each of those schools is still used, each refuting the notion that we can’t trust school district officials to take care of what tax dollars paid for.
Moreover, the district’s proposal, if voters approve the measure, calls for continuing to utilize Brooklyn as an Early Learning Center that would house kindergartners and potentially lease space for other community services.
The district has also made good use of other schools even older than those constructed with money raised by the 1948 bond.
Baker Middle School dates to 1934, and Haines Elementary to 1919.
But maintenance can’t make a building bigger. And both elementary schools in Baker City — Brooklyn and South Baker — are housing more students than they were designed for. Brooklyn’s enrollment of 465 exceeds its capacity by 117 students, and South Baker’s 355 students are 68 more than its intended capacity. The Middle School’s enrollment of 260 exceeds its capacity by 61 students.
We understand that the overcrowding at Brooklyn and South Baker is due in part to the district’s decision, more than a dozen years ago, to close Churchill School and to use North Baker, which was built in 1909, for other purposes, including the Baker Web Academy and other educational programs.
But we don’t believe that Churchill, were it still in public ownership, would be a viable solution to the district’s predicament, mainly due to its age.
Churchill, which opened in 1926, is about a quarter century older than both Brooklyn and South Baker.
The Central Building on the middle school campus, which also has been closed for many years, is older still, having been built in 1916.
All of these structures cost more to heat than would a new elementary school.
The other benefits of a new elementary school are harder to quantify, certainly, but that doesn’t mean these benefits aren’t also valid and meaningful.
Schools built more than six decades ago were not designed with modern technology in mind, both in terms of learning and of security.
Money from the bond measure would pay for more secure entries, with key card systems, for existing schools. And the new elementary school would be designed with those measures.
Remodeling Baker High School to accommodate seventh- and eighth-graders — in a separate section of the building — makes sense because the issue at BHS is not too many students but rather too few.
The school, including the portions built following the 1989 fire, is designed to accommodate 830 students, but high school enrollment is only about 450.
Moving middle school students to an underused building is sensible from a purely numerical standpoint. But equally important, having the seventh- and eighth-graders on the BHS campus would allow them to take advantage of advanced classes without having to travel back and forth, as is the case now.
We understand that Baker City venerates its historic buildings, including publicly owned structures such as City Hall and the Baker County Courthouse.
But renovation isn’t always the less-expensive option.
District officials did consider the possibility of remodeling the Central Building on the middle school campus and building an elementary school on that campus as well. But the total cost of that option is estimated at $46 million, compared with $37 million to build an elementary school on property the district owns between the Baker Sports Complex and Hughes Lane.
In any case, we believe public schools are unique, and that their purpose is more important than other civic buildings.
Schools reflect the value that residents place on educating their children and giving them the best foundation for a successful and rewarding life.
Although the current overcrowding is undeniable, we’re not suggesting that students are receiving a substandard education in the current buildings.
But we do believe, and indeed Baker City’s history proves, that occasionally a majority of residents agree that public schools are so vital that we should sacrifice on behalf of our students — that we can do better for them. History also shows that we do not make such sacrifices often.
The claim that school district officials won’t long be satisfied even if voters approve the $48 million bond measure on Nov. 6 is not borne out by history.
Seven decades have passed since residents decided to take on such a financial burden. A large majority of the voters who agreed to do so are gone now, but their selflessness has benefited at least four generations of Baker City students.
We believe today’s voters, by casting a yes vote on Measure 1-88, will have a similarly valuable, and lengthy, legacy to add to their epitaph.
From the Baker City Herald editorial board. The board consists of editor Jayson Jacoby and reporter Chris Collins.