Monday, September 10, 2018

Questions For Superintendent Mark Witty

 Churchill School
I sent the following questions to Mr. Witty three weeks ago but have not received a response as yet. I followed up a week later and he responded that he was busy with the start of the school year which seemed reasonable.  I thought with school having started last week that I would be getting a response, but still nothing. In my preface to the questions I reminded Mr. Witty that a lot of us in Baker live in poverty and that the elderly on Social Security do not get cost of living raises that keep up with their actual cost of living. In other words, that their primary expenses for medical care, property taxes, city utility charges and fees, home and auto insurance, etc., are going up faster than the cost of living raises granted by Social Security. Every year we sink deeper into impoverishment and the School bond will increase the risk of some losing their homes or of not be able to meet the rent, which is an existential threat. In fact, studies have shown that living in poverty itself is an existential threat. All that said, I asked the questions which can be found below.
 Churchill School was sold by the school district in March of 2007
for $205,000.  In the years since, as the building stood empty, the 
district has been adding portables to the other schools to handle the 
increasing number of students. The Vegters purchased the property for 
their home and commercial ventures in May of this year for $194,104. 
Both the planning department and the Planning Commission allowed
them to create commercial businesses in a medium density residential
 area even though it subverted the development code. If the district had
 bought it back at that price, they would have made a profit of $10, 896.00.
 If they hadn't sold it in the first place, it could have been housing many
students. How short-sighted of them! Or was it intentional?
Anyway, here are some questions pertaining to the $48 million bond issue that you, the school board, and the BSD Long Range Facilities Planning Committee wish to impose on our community. I use the word “you” kind of loosely below, but take it as meaning the school board and the committee as well, but you [Mr. Witty] certainly seem to be a prime mover of this proposal.

August 22, 2018

First question I and my neighbors are wondering about:

  1. Given that you and the committee have been planning this since at least 3/2017, why didn’t the district just buy back Churchill school, which recently sold for less than what the School Board sold it for years ago, to provide additional classroom space with facilities? It seems to me that keeping neighborhood schools could cut down on busing costs, which will be increasingly important in the future as energy per capita becomes more scarce and expensive. Corollary Question: Did the committee in any way encourage or help arrange for the school to be sold off to Vegter so it couldn’t interfere with the new plans?

Other questions:

  1. Why are you asking voters to approve a $48 million school bond when the Facilities Master Planning Committee thought that “the most urgent needs for building improvements” were “estimated to cost about $26.7 million?

  1. Do the elite folks chosen for the BSD Long Range Facilities Planning Committee in any way represent an actual cross section of residents of Baker City? Wasn’t the fix in from the start in that they were chosen because they could be counted on to support a big bond issue? Do they have any understanding of what the socio-economic lives of poor and regular folks are like and what this bond would do to them?

  1. Why are there no poor people on the committee? Are they just to stupid to contribute meaningful opinions on a grandiose plan?

  1. What is a 21st century learning environment, and how will it improve outcomes? Are you going to transform the home environment of lower income people so that their needs are met and they will be more able to be receptive to education, or is this just a plan to make wealthy residents feel that their kids are on a par with Portland?

  1. The report talks about operational costs and energy efficiency, so why are you proposing that walking-distance neighborhood schools be abandoned in favor of a costly, energy hungry, busing plan to transport children from the far reaches of Baker City to Hughes Lanes on the north side? At risk of sounding like your grandfather perhaps, I have to tell you that I walked long distances to my elementary and junior high schools, and I suspect it was good for me.

  1. When I was in Germany in 1970, people used and took care of buildings several centuries old. Why is the committee proposing to abandon them? Is sustainability not a goal of the school district? Aren’t earthquake retrofit grants available?

  1. How do you feel about the economic burden the bond will put on the many poverty stricken people in Baker City? Do you not foresee rising rents for poor renters and additional unbearable costs for seniors already struggling on low fixed incomes? Are the elite folks trying to drive the poor out of town?  Are you familiar with the concept of gentrification and are you and the committee in effect proponents of it???  Are you willing to put myself and others at risk of our losing homes in order to educate newcomers and promote unnecessary population growth. I asked the last question to a teacher two months ago and he seemed to be OK with that outcome. His thinking was that it would attract new businesses, people and growth, and well, if some of us who live here have to suffer, then so be it. Obviously he hadn’t spent the years from 1950 to 2000 in Southern California to watch it be destroyed by the kind of “growth” that he seeks, and he obviously hadn’t read “Better Not Bigger” by Eben Fodor. As they say,
    Be careful what you wish for.”

  1. The committee “discussed economic and community development considerations.” What were there conclusions as to the effect of the bond on economic and community development?

  1.  Recognizing the stressful financial difficulties that poverty stricken seniors face, some municipalities and, at least in the past, some states, relieve poor elderly people from property taxes and school taxes. Given the competitive meanness infecting the country since the 80s, such relief has been disappearing and now tax relief goes largely to the wealthy. Did you and the committee consider how to mitigate the damaging effects of the bond proposal on the poor and elderly?  Did the thought even enter their minds? If so, what were your conclusions?

  1. In identifying overcrowding as a “critical” problem, “you” give figures for the number of students a school was built for, compared to the current number of students attending. Aren’t the additional students being taught in portables, as is common practice throughout the U.S.?

  1. My calculations, if they are correct, indicate that the current number of additional students over original capacity is 221 and that in this new school year the estimate will be about 246. Leaving aside the number that could have been housed at Churchill (there were 183 sixth graders there in 2002, and that was not the maximum capacity), given that there are 395 unfilled spaces at the High School, why couldn’t they go there?  I doubt that high schoolers will be flirting with elementary school children, and apparently you think the same as you want to build an elementary school next to the high school. The additional Middle School students could be using Churchill if the school board hadn’t sold it.

  1. What is responsible for this growth in the number of students and when did it start?

  1. Isn’t re-purposing Brooklyn Elementary as an early learning center an expansion of the educational industrial complex and attendant bureaucracy? Who is going to pay for it? (I think provision of day care and health care by professionals could be a great social program, but where is the money?)

  1. Is it true that day care at the conceptualized early learning center is only for staff and community partners and not the rest of the community?

  1. Doesn’t Head Start already have adequate space on 16th Street? If not, why aren’t they using Churchill School?

  1. Isn’t it true that you can provide key card entry and secure points of entry throughout the school system without building a new Gr, 1-6 school?

  1. You say that you are committed to preserving the value that each school property brings to its respective neighborhood within the larger community.  What does that mean? The district shortsightedly sold (i.e., privatized) Churchill, a public asset, and it is now needed. It was resold to an entrepreneur/”artist” that will use it to serve a fraction of the community and some visitors. Is that what you mean?

  1. The handout given out on one of your promotional tours shows a budget estimate of $65,124,107 for Option 1, and an estimate of $56,000,000 for option 2. What happened to the $48 million budget?

That’s all for now Mark.  Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your response.

Christopher Christie
Baker City



I was listening to The Ralph Nader Radio Hour this last weekend and one of Ralph's guests was Rosemary Gibson, "Senior Advisor at The Hastings Center, which is the world’s first bioethics research institute, and she is an editor for the Journal of the American Medical Association." She was on to discuss her recent book, “China RX: Exposing the Risks for America’s Dependence on China for Medicine,” about the unsettling fact that the manufacture of the vast majority of the prescription drugs taken by Americans has been taken over by China.

You may recall that this is similar to China now having almost cornered the market on rare earth elements that are used in electronics for everything from cell phones to renewable energy to military applications. After helping to drive it into bankruptcy, a Chinese consortium purchased Americas largest rare earths mine, the Mountain Pass Mine near Las Vegas, Nevada in 2017, leaving us more dependent on China for these elements.

I'm not beating a drum against China though. Government intervention could have saved both the rare earths mine and the American drug manufacturing industry, but money was apparently more important than national security.

From the Ralph Nader Radio Hour web site :

“There was country of origin labeling legislation put forward about ten years ago, but it was immediately killed. And when I asked an industry person to describe why that happened, this person said, “Well, the industry probably thought it wouldn’t be good for their customers to know where their medicines are being made.” And that’s because in a poll from the Pew Trust, only 6% of Americans trust medicines made in China. So, companies have good reason to hide it.” Rosemary Gibson, author of “China Rx: Exposing the Risk of America’s Dependence on China for Medicine.”
You can listen to or download download the Nader China Rx podcast by clicking this link and scrolling down the page.

Publisher's description:
About China Rx

Millions of Americans are taking prescription drugs made in China and don’t know it–and pharmaceutical companies are not eager to tell them. This is a disturbing, well-researched wake-up call for improving the current system of drug supply and manufacturing.

 Several decades ago, penicillin, vitamin C, and many other prescription and over-the-counter products were manufactured in the United States. But with the rise of globalization, antibiotics, antidepressants, birth control pills, blood pressure medicines, cancer drugs, among many others are made in China and sold in the United States. 

China’s biggest impact on the US drug supply is making essential ingredients for thousands of medicines found in American homes and used in hospital intensive care units and operating rooms. 

The authors convincingly argue that there are at least two major problems with this scenario. First, it is inherently risky for the United States to become dependent on any one country as a source for vital medicines, especially given the uncertainties of geopolitics. For example, if an altercation in the South China Sea causes military personnel to be wounded, doctors may rely upon medicines with essential ingredients made by the adversary. Second, lapses in safety standards and quality control in Chinese manufacturing are a risk. Citing the concerns of FDA officials and insiders within the pharmaceutical industry, the authors document incidents of illness and death caused by contaminated medications that prompted reform. 

This probing book examines the implications of our reliance on China on the quality and availability of vital medicines.

You can watch the C-SPAN presentation here.


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