Bus route resolved, dance club added, levy looms for Tonasket

TONASKET – Discussion over a bus route to serve the Siwash Creek area dominated discussion at the Tonasket School Board meeting on Monday, Oct. 24. And while the solution wasn’t necessarily ideal for anyone, the school board did approve the addition of a route that would serve the half-dozen students involved.

The transportation committee had come up with two options, one of which would have adversely affected students on the already-lengthy Mt. Hull route by lengthening their bus ride by more than 20 minutes over the existing route.

The second option, which was eventually approved by the school board, doesn’t affect students on existing routes but will cost the district nearly $15,000 to implement.

“It’s a little out of the box,” said transportation director Jeff Yeckel. “I woke up one night having nightmares and this is what I came up with.”

The new route adds 32 miles to the end of the Johns Landing route, and will be implemented only with further maintenance to Rehmke Road. Parents said they were told by the county that it would not provide further maintenance unless the road was used for a bus route.

“The way that road is right now, we can’t put a bus on it,” Yeckel said. “We took a bus up to log times and milage, and it was the worst bus ride I’ve had in my life.”

The board also considered the fact that there was previously a route in that area that was removed a year ago, and that there are additional students at the far end of the route that aren’t even currently enrolled in school. Additional funding received if those students enroll – as well as funding retained if the students currently affected by not having bus service don’t withdraw from school – helped to justify the cost.

“We’re going out on a limb to add $15,000 we don’t have for that route,” said board member Catherine Stangland. “But this was historically a route until last year. The situation was partially created because of route changes that changed things.”

“I want to vote no,” said legislative representative Lloyd Caton, moments before he voted in favor of the resolution. “I have no idea where we’ll come up with $15,000. But we need to have these kids in school, and we’ll be regularly evaluation the route.”

“I want to reiterate this is based on the condition of the road,” Yeckel said. “I still need to be able to do my job. If the road is like it was when we went up it, I won’t approve putting a bus on that road.”

“I’m OK with it,” said Tonasket superintendent Paul Turner in an interview on Friday. “We had that route before and got rid of it a year and a half ago because of a lack of kids. It’s going to cost, but we’ll keep those kids in school and have a chance to add a few more. I respect the reservations of the transportation committee because the criteria are there for a reason, but in the end we’re responsible for getting those kids to school.”

The board approved the addition of the Tiger Spirit Dance Club as a Middle School extra-curricular activity, to be coached on a volunteer basis by Julie Tyus.

“We haven’t added a middle school program in a long time,” said athletic director Kevin Terris as part of the dance club presentation. “When we did a student interest activity survey, dance was very high on the interest list and we decided it was worth pursuing. I approved it, (Middle School principal) Mr. Tyus approved it, the ASB approved it and this is the final step.”

“Tonasket has a ton of dancers,” Julie Tyus said. “The interest is high enough that a lot of kids drive to Omak to do it. I’ve coached dance before and I’ve missed it, so I’m happy to do it. It’s open to anyone who is interested.”

Terris added that, in addition to carrying no coach or travel costs, adding the program could help with any Title IX issues the school may encounter.

“It technically doesn’t apply to Title IX,” he said. “It is something that should spur more interaction with the girls, and if it should come up, it proves that that effort is being made.”

In other business, the board approved proposed “safe walkways” routes, which are designed to meet criteria that keep bus stops and walks to school and bus stops out of dangerous areas, such as requiring students to cross arterials or railroad tracks. Safe walkway routes, as well as guidelines for parents, will be posted on the Tonasket School District website.

In the ongoing school board policy update project, the first readings of the 3000 series of policies were approved, while the second reading of the high school graduation policy, which had been sent to the high school principal for review, was approved. The board determined that further discussion of some of the policies under development was warranted: the gang policy, which was based on a successful policy implemented at Moses Lake, should be reviewed by an attorney; the concussion policy, which pertains only to athletes participating in WIAA sanctioned sports, should have a companion policy for in-school concussions; there was a need for a policy dealing with medications on field trips; and policy regarding skateboards needed to be added to existing policy on cars and bicycles.

In personnel matters, Emily Rimestad was hired as the new high school varsity fastpitch softball coach, while bus driver Roger Prater three month leave of absence was extended for an additional three months.

The board also took time to recognize the accomplishments of the FFA team, which was the national runner up in parliamentary procedure at the national convention in Indianapolis; and of Elementary principal Jeff Cravy, who was honored as the Washington State Principal of the Year by the Washington Library Media Association after being nominated by the Tonasket Elementary librarians.

The board discussed the upcoming 2012 levy but decided it needed more information before determining either an amount or an election date. The possible dates are Feb. 14 or Apr. 17, 2012, but state funding decisions that will determine Levy Equalization Act levels have yet to be made. Upcoming state budget cuts are certain to occur, but the level is still unknown. The good news was that the assessed property evaluation had increased by $7 million, meaning keeping the levy at its current level would bring in slightly more revenue.

The board went into executive session following the three-hour public meeting to deal with contract negotiations.

“We have a new direction to go back to the union with,” Turner said. “But we do have an agreement, though, and we’re moving ahead.”

Dates of future school board meetings were adjusted, in part due to the upcoming holidays. Future meeting dates: Monday, Nov. 7, (policy work session); Monday, Nov. 28 (regular meeting); Monday, Dec. 12 (regular meeting); Friday, Dec. 16 (bill-paying session). There will be no meeting on Monday, Dec. 26.

About Brent Baker

Brent is a reporter for the Gazette-Tribune. Prior to working at the G-T, he was the sports editor for Sunrise Publishing from 2000-2005 in Michigan. He subsequently owned and operated Buckland Media, a high school sports website, in Michigan until 2010. He and his wife Kim, who have an adult son, moved to Tonasket in 2010. Brent started work at the G-T in 2011.

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