EDWARDS AFB – Several base schools have been vandalized since Aug. 25 incurring over $12,000 in damages to the Muroc Joint Unified School District. The majority of the destruction has occurred at Bailey Elementary School where windows, ceiling tiles and equipment such as phones, light panels, display cases, over-head projectors and clocks have been broken.
“We have a lot of great kids that attend our schools and a lot of great parents and families that support the district schools, so everyone is impacted by this kind of behavior. It outrages a community when you see the destruction of property at your school,” said Loretta Gibson, Muroc Joint Unified School District superintendent.
So far, there have been five instances where an unidentified individual or group has broken into school property at night, and with each break in, the level of damage to the property has escalated.
“When they broke into an area, they just damaged whatever they could gain access to in that area,” said Gibson. “We’ve been working with 412th Security Forces and we certainly appreciate everything that they’re trying to do to minimize any further damage.”
The Muroc Trustees will explore increased security options, such as surveillance cameras and security patrol during their upcoming school board meeting. Gibson noted that when the people responsible for the vandalism are caught, the school district will prosecute.
“Every time the school district sustains this kind of vandalism and damage we have to divert money from the student’s instructional programs and educational opportunities to cover the cost of the vandalism,” said Gibson. “We would much rather be putting our resources towards opportunities for our students versus having to put it in to repairs due to vandalism.”
The district is also looking to the local community to assist in stopping the vandalism by utilizing an anonymous service – WeTip – to report any suspicious activity. That may include tips about individuals that are entering the property at unusual hours or license plate numbers of vehicles parked near the school grounds at night. The information from WeTip is submitted to the school district and Kern County Sheriff’s Department for follow-up.
“One of the unique situations we have is jurisdiction over the school. Part of the land that the schools sit on was deeded to the school district so that becomes state property. With state property in the middle of a federal installation, Kern County Sheriff is the public agency that is in charge of the school district property,” said Gibson.
“Parents can also be a huge help by speaking to their children about the importance of responsibility and stepping up with information if they are aware of who might be doing this. We’re not asking students to step in and try to break up something – we don’t want anybody injured, but certainly they can report.”
While Bailey and Payne Jr. High School, also known as the Center of Excellence, have been vacant for the last few years due to declining enrollment, they serve as valuable assets to the school district. During the fall of 2015, the district will put to work a federal grant to modernize Branch Elementary.
“During that time period we will be utilizing both Bailey and the Center of Excellence to house the students that are currently at Branch, while the modernization is underway,” said Gibson. “We are currently working on both sites to make sure that those schools are ready to be used in the fall.”
The Multipurpose room at Bailey, which is used to hold Sunday services for the Spirit of Praise Church, was also vandalized.
“When [the pastor] came in to set up for services on Sunday he found the damage. It was some of their equipment thrown around; the individuals involved in it urinated on the floor; just senseless acts of vandalism.”
The Center of Excellence is used throughout the school year to support extra-curricular activities such as the Robotics Club, Odyssey of the Mind and wrestling teams. Last year, the Center of Excellence sustained around $10,000 in damages due to broken windows.
Desert Jr.-Sr. High School was also affected by a break-in during the weekend before school started. The intruders broke into the snack bar and stole all of the food items that students had recently restocked for the first day of school. During the incident, windows were broken and there was damage to the building.
The proceeds from the stolen snacks would have gone towards funding various projects and extra-curricular activities.
“When you look into a student’s eyes and you see the disappointment and frustration with what happened at the snack bar at Desert, it is very frustrating and it’s hard for educators to see that disappointment in the kids’ faces. The kids worked hard and these things are very important to them.”
The base schools currently serve just under 1,400 students who spend the majority of their day at the schools.
“We take a lot of pride in the students. We have great kids, great students at our schools,” said Gibson. “We want an inviting environment for them. We want them to be comfortable at their school and to feel proud of their school, and we want them to have the advantages of all the things that they need at their school.”
A reward of up to $1,000 is offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of people responsible for the vandalism. Call WeTip at 1-800-78-CRIME (27463) if you have any information.