Baker School District Superintendent Mark Witty has failed to make a convincing case for the district to spend an additional $83,000 to $104,000 yearly to hire a full-time athletic director.

The Baker School Board endorsed Witty’s proposal, and the district is looking to hire the new administrator this summer. The salary range is $95,193 to $116,039.

Currently, and historically, the district has paid a staff member a stipend to serve as athletic director. Typically the athletic director is a teacher (and, frequently, a coach). That’s the case with current AD Tim Smith, a 20-year teacher at Baker High School and the head baseball coach. The district pays Smith $12,038 annually to serve as athletic director.

Witty’s plan was prompted in part by an audit that a Salem law firm conducted this spring at the district’s request. A lawyer examined the district’s policies and procedures for athletics, in particular how officials deal with complaints made against coaches.

The event that led the district to contract for the audit was Witty’s decision, on Feb. 25, to dismiss Warren Wilson, BHS head volleyball and assistant baseball coach, from future coaching jobs in the district due to complaints made by volleyball players last winter about his alleged inappropriate conduct with them. The district also investigated similar complaints in 2015 by JV basketball players whom Wilson had coached. The district retained Wilson as a coach in that case although a district investigation concluded that his actions with players, though designed to “build positive relationships,” were “misguided.”

The law firm’s audit recommended, among other things, that the district have one person designated to lead investigations into complaints under a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination against students and employees.

That seems a prudent measure. But the new athletic director won’t be responsible for such investigations — Barry Nemec, the district’s special education director, will be. The new AD would be the first point of contact for complaints regarding co aches, however.

Witty told the board recently that the new AD, as a full-time administrator, would have more authority, and that the person’s responsibilities would be more clearly delineated.

That’s reasonable. Yet the issue in the Wilson case was not whether Smith, the athletic director, had authority or explicit duties. The district investigated the 2015 allegations and Witty decided not to terminate Wilson’s contract. It’s not clear how, or indeed why, the district would have gained more information, or handled the situation differently, had it employed a full-time AD at the time.

Witty cited other potential benefits of hiring a full-time AD, who would work under a 260-day contract rather than only during the school year and in a limited capacity, as is the case now.

Witty said the new AD could work to bring more events, such as soccer tournaments and batting clinics, to the Baker Sports Complex, with the attendant boost to the district’s revenue and the local economy.

There is definite potential in that area. The Sports Complex is hardly in use every day, and it is an attractive facility. Yet even Witty acknowledged to the board that realizing the Sports Complex’s potential will take three to five years of work.

And there’s no reason to believe that the district couldn’t, with its current staffing level, more aggressively market the Sports Complex.

The Baker School District, to its credit, is in solid financial position. But that doesn’t justify creating a new administrative position whose benefits are not certain.

— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald editor