The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

School board hears transportation needs


January 24, 2019

Diana Zimmerman

Wahkiakum School District celebrated the members of their all volunteer school board at the January school board meeting on Tuesday. From left to right are: Dan Wilson, Sue O'Connor, Robin Westphall, Shawn Merz, Paula Culbertson, and Superintendent Brent Freeman.

January is school board appreciation month, and the Wahkiakum School District Board of Directors were feted with banners, dinner, and some special art created by Wahkiakum students at their meeting on Tuesday.

Superintendent Brent Freeman talked about a few issues, most notably about coming transportation costs and an exciting new opportunity that might come with a partnership with the WSU Extension Office.

"We've got an aging fleet," Freeman said of the district's buses and smaller use vehicles, "and we are going to need to make some capital investments over the next couple years."

He noted that the district should be fine this year, but a blown engine and a malfunctioning engine have halted the use of two buses, and he expects each rebuild to cost about $16-18,000. They are looking at other options.

Twelve buses remain active, running seven routes a day.

Three of their buses are almost 30 years old.

"We've got to have reliable buses," Freeman said.

Freeman said there are currently two options for the district. They could get on state cycle, where they use a state depreciation plan for purchasing a bus every three years and paying it off through usage. Over a 13-year period, he said, it depreciates itself out and the state provides funds for it. The second option is to wait till other school districts expire their 13-year-old buses and buy them in year 14.

"The problem is those buses have hundreds of thousands of miles on them," Freeman said.

As for their small vehicles, they have four wagons, a sedan, a couple utility vehicles, and four SUVs. One SUV stays at the high school and is used for local travel. It has 260,000 miles on it and is not reliable for further travel.

The Ford Excursion has over 200,000 miles, and has broken down on the road with kids. It is now restricted to travel inside the county.

In the past, the state paid a much higher portion of the school's transportation costs, but according to Freeman, they are currently offering about $30,000.

Freeman suggested that the district might have to increase pay for play or find other ways to generate revenue to pay for district transportation.

"The costs don't go away," Freeman said.

This summer he plans to meet with Transportation Supervisor Calvin Grasseth to come up with a long term plan.

An opportunity to build a commercial kitchen has come by way of Carrie Backman at WSU Extension and a possible $210,000 grant.

"The original intent of the money was to support commercial fishermen," Freeman said.

It still will, but it might also be a boon for Wahkiakum students.

Plans are coming together for a new two room building at the high school. On one side there would be a fish processing facility for commercial fishermen and on the other side, a commercial kitchen for the school district.

The district would manage the site and there would be a community use fee for the fish processing facility. The grant money would pay for it all, except for a few pieces of equipment the school district already owns.

"It's a quarter of a million dollars, in a county of declining revenues where we wouldn't even get enough bond money to do the remodel that we need," Freeman said. "I'm not sure we should pass up the opportunity. It brings the fish through here. If we get a facility like this, and get the IT that we're planning in the grant, we're going to look into getting WSU extension classes that are brought in here for college credit for food science."

If all goes well, Wahkiakum students will not only be learning in the commercial kitchen, they will be picking up new skills in the fish processing facility.

And the district could also incorporate the new kitchen into their other plans to expand gardens, plant blueberries, and an apple orchard.

In other news, after 35 years at the district, teacher Mary Simpson-Moonen tendered her resignation, effective June 30, 2019.


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